For many police officers, the holiday season can be a time for working double shifts, being on the lookout for intoxicated motorists and remembering that crime does not take a holiday.
But Naperville's officers through the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 42 also made time to provide gifts for some underprivileged children and their families by taking them shopping at Target.
"Our social services department identified 11 underprivileged families," said Officer Vince Clark, lodge president. "Each one gets to fill his cart with $150 of items and our FOP takes care of the bill."
Clark said the FOP is completely separate from the city's police department and holds numerous fundraisers throughout the year. The roughly $30,000 taken in annually is distributed to less fortunate families, to organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the St. Baldrick's Foundation, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and to help the families of deceased officers.
"We're a registered nonprofit, and there's no money kept for ourselves," he said. "We just raise it throughout the year and disperse it where it's needed."
On a recent cold evening, families gathered inside the entrance to Target Greatland on Route 59 where they were paired with an officer, detective or police social worker. Following introductions and handshakes, and armed only with a calculator, officers took wide-eyed children through the aisles of the store to fill their shopping carts.
"I want this one," said Kaon, age 11, to Officer Dan Fisher, pointing to a Lego toy. Like the other police and staff, Fisher volunteered for the Cops With Kids event.
"I do this because it's for the kids," said Fisher. "It feels good to help out and give back to the community, especially for the kids at Christmas. We're kind of an affluent suburb, but people shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we do have underprivileged people here."
Steve Schindlbeck, a bilingual police sergeant, was paired with a Hispanic family.
"Que quiere, quiere ropa?" said Schindlbeck, asking if they needed clothing.
Christopher, 8, led him to aisles of boys' clothing and shoes.
"The kids don't always see us in the most positive light because sometimes we have to show up at their homes to referee a domestic situation between their parents," Schindlbeck said. "The thing to remember is that the department helps the community in many ways. Then the next time I show up at their building, the kids aren't so intimidated and maybe they'll remember it's officer Santa Claus."
A bulletin board in the store is testimony to Target's community service in Naperville.
"The main thing is to help out the kids and the families," said store manager Doug Zumdahl. "For Target, we love helping out in any way we can by opening our doors to this."
The board displays a half-dozen thank-you notes — from the Mill Street School assistant principal for an October donation of lunch boxes and backpacks; a September letter from the principal of Longwood Elementary for a $977 donation, and a November letter from the Elmwood Elementary principal for candy that was included in packages sent to overseas troops for Veteran's Day.
Shopper Teri Conrath of Aurora paused to view the happy children browsing the aisles with their police officer partners.
"My dad was a cop, and I totally support what they're doing," Conrath said. "Anything that reaches out to the kids and makes them see that cops are people, it's a good thing."
Michael Hoffman has been a police social worker in Naperville since 1985.
"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for people to see that the police department is a friend to the community," he said. "They're so generous to donate their time and themselves. I'm always moved, each year, at how wonderful they are to develop this rapport with the kids and the families."
Police social worker Donna Swanson called the experience heart-wrenching.
"I just picked up a young boy today to bring him here," Swanson said. "His mom has cancer, his dad's working and barely making ends meet, and I told him to pick out some shoes and a winter coat, and to tell the officer he wanted a pizza. He said, 'wow, we can pick out food, too?'"