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WOONSOCKET -- You couldn't have asked for a better holiday smile than the one members of the Woonsocket Police Department put on the face of Joel Felix, 4, at their annual Santa Claus party for local children this week.
Joel, who joined three of his five siblings in collecting holiday gifts at the party in the Because He Lives Soup Kitchen on Blackstone Street, couldn't believe his good fortune. Not only did Santa give him an "action robot," his siblings also received a "road rippers" radio-controlled car, a soccer ball and a baseball set and other gifts to play with when they returned home.
"I like it. It was nice," Joel said as the family headed out with their gifts.
The party concluded a drive that members of the Police Department kicked off after Thanksgiving to help local children in need. Members of Local 404, the department's police union, Police Chief Thomas S. Carey, and a group of volunteers worked together Wednesday afternoon to maintain a toy distribution line ending with Santa Claus handing over the gifts to children stopping by over a two-hour period.
The kids also got candy canes, soft drinks, and homemade cookies created by Gert Delgado and her own group of nine "elves."
"I make them at home every year and come here to give them out to the kids," Delgado said. She also helps out with collecting toys and had members of the police department stop in at the St. Joseph Church bingo on Mendon Road to pick up toys brought into the church fundraiser.
"Oh this is an excellent party," Delgado, participating in her 12th annual party, said as she and another longtime toy drive volunteer, Shirley Robinson, worked the refreshment table.
Robinson said it is the look she sees on the faces of kids coming to the party that keeps her involved in the annual event. "Their faces are ectatic when they come in the door and see Santa," she said. "I volunteer every year and I think it is a wonderful thing that the Police Department does to hold this party," she said.
"It gives people a better outlook toward the police in the neighborhoods, because they see what the Police Department does for the kids," Robinson said.
Chief Carey helped with the distribution of the toys but pointed to two specific members of the department and their special elf as getting most of the work done on the annual project.
Det. Sgt. John Scully and Shawn Kerrigan marshalled department members to help out at various collection days during the drive and Scully's wife, Dawn, managed the sorting and planning aspects of the drive as their unofficial executive director.
"I know everyone tries to help but it was these three individuals, Det. Sgts. Scully and Kerrigan and Dawn Scully who did a wonderful job organizing the collection of toys and the coordinating the party," he said.
Because He Lives Ministries director Pat Dempster put together a list of 264 local families to participate in the gift distribution and noted everything went off as planned as the families came in at scheduled times and had a visit with Santa.
"It has been absolutely fabulous. One of the best parties we have ever had, " Dempster said. "The kids love it and they are absolutely thrilled to be here," she added.
The ministry is located in the basement of the First Baptist Church on Blackstone Street and serves meals to those in need five days a week. Dempster said she has seen an increase in patrons at the kitchen and knows there are "many people who are hurting," in the current economy.
Carey said he also has seen the impact of the economic downturn on the community but was also impressed that despite those difficulties people still stepped forward to help with the annual toy collection.
"It is amazing how people just reached deep into their pockets and helped out with this event," Carey said.
Dets. Scully and Kerrigan said they also were pleased by the results of this year's drive and noted they have enough toys at the police station to help local organizations such as Woonsocket Head Start, Family Resources, the Woonsocket Boys and Girls Club and the Tyra Club put on holiday parties for local families or provide direct assistance to families not meeting the income requirements for gift programs such as Adopt-a-Family.
"It went really well and we probably collected over 4,000 toys," Scully said as he worked with Det. Roger Biron, Det. Allen Leclaire, Det. Brien Godin and Patrolmen Michael Villiard and Joshua Rucho on gift distribution.
Dawn Scully noted the drive received a big boost again this year from the family of the late Ron Auger, a veteran police department dispatcher, as a result of the collection party held at their home in the heavy rain and wind Sunday afternoon. "I was amazed at the people who came by. People even missed the Patriots game to come out and give us gifts in rain," she said.
"We had a good time and laughed a lot," Dawn said.
Ron's mom, Jeanne Auger, was also all smiles at the Because He Lives Party while her daughter Christine Arel and granddaughters, Rebecca and Brianna, helped out at the refreshment table.
The family's second annual collection at Wood Avenue set a new record for braving bad weather and the volunteers amassed a bigger than expected pile of toys for the kids, she noted.
"It was wonderful. In all that pouring rain we filled Ron's truck with toys four times," Auger said. "We were determined to fill it twice this year and we filled it four times. That was wonderful," she said. The volunteers helping out quickly piled the gifts into the police van parked nearby and the weather ended up having no impact on the afternoon.
"We were very happy with it," Auger said. "We had Santa out on the porch and I made hot chocolate and pastries for the people stopping by," she said. The family plans to help out with the drive again next year as a result of the success of the event, Auger said. Santa was assisted in attending Because He Lives party by Dave Watson, a friend of the Auger family.