MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury resident Heather Smith wondered if something was amiss when she saw police cruisers pull into the parking lot in front of her John Graham Court home on Christmas Day.
Smith became even more perplexed when she heard one of the officers ask a neighbor where he could find her son, Logan. Logan isn’t quite old enough yet to attend classes at Mary Hogan Elementary School, so Smith knew it was quite unlikely he had run afoul of the law.
Soon, it all became clear. The Middlebury and Vermont State police officers weren’t there to give out a ticket or summons; they were there to give a Christmas present to Logan, who otherwise would have had few gifts under the tree.
“It was pretty cool; he was all excited,” Smith, a single mom, said of Logan’s reaction to receiving what turned out to be a toy truck.
“It has been an awesome Christmas.”
Smith’s was but one of 13 Middlebury homes that Santa’s law enforcement helpers visited on Christmas to drop off gifts for a combined total of 32 children. None of the families had a clue the police were coming, as the officers weren’t looking for publicity. The Addison Independent followed up on a tip about the gift deliveries and learned the effort was organized by Middlebury police officer Kris Bowdish, who sported a Santa cap while making the rounds Sunday.
Bowdish, a two-year veteran of the Middlebury force, had previously served as an officer in Avondale, Ariz. She participated in an annual Avondale Police Department drive to collect gifts and deliver them to children in families struggling during the holidays.
“It was such a great experience, I wanted to try to make it happen in Middlebury,” Bowdish said during a phone interview from the Vermont Police Academy on Tuesday.
She worked with colleagues, businesses, private individuals and the poverty-fighting organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) to put together an impressive assortment of gifts. Bowdish picked recipients from within her beat (which includes John Graham Court) and with advice from HOPE officials.
The benefits are two-fold, according to Bowdish. The child gets a Christmas gift the family might not have been able to afford, and the young recipient also gains an understanding that the police role goes beyond fighting crime.
“It is nice to not be there to convey bad news or take someone away,” Bowdish said.
Children definitely got the message.
“The kids were just ecstatic,” Bowdish said, adding one little girl “asked me to thank Santa and the elves for the gifts.”
Fellow Middlebury police officers Neil Mogerly (also a part-time Vergennes police officer) and Nathan Hayes joined Bowdish for the gift deliveries, as did VSP troopers Andy Leise, Cathy Cappetta and Kaitlyn Armstrong from the New Haven barracks.
Bowdish happened to be on the Middlebury P.D. work schedule for this Christmas Day, but said she will volunteer to make the gift drive an annual event.
“I would love to expand on it, get more local agencies involved, and double (the recipient total) next year,” she said.
Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley credited Bowdish for spearheading the program.
“It showed some great initiative on her part,” Hanley said.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.