WOONSOCKET — Santa Claus gets plenty of help every Christmas season, and he should especially thank members of the Woonsocket Police Department.
On Friday, Det. Sgt. John Scully and Det. Sgt. Shawn Kerrigan wrapped up their annual stint as Santa's helpers by turning over toys to more than 75 local families, an effort benefiting at least 290 city children.
The two detectives took on the task of finding three to five toys for each of those children during the department's annual toy drive, and despite a tough economy and the loss of some past contributors, still managed to distribute their collected presents in time for Christmas.
Scully on Friday admitted that a police station is an unusual place for a couple of Santa's elves to hang their hats, but added that he doesn't plan on putting that role aside anytime soon.
"People call us looking for help and I am going to try to help them out," Scully said.
As has been the case in past years, the local police officers were put in contact with a number of families having a difficult time making ends meet and were in turn able to help them put gifts under the tree this year despite those difficulties.
A 20-year department veteran, Scully takes the view that if someone asks for help at such a time, it is best to try and find a way to respond. Some might question the validity of such requests when considering all the organizations out there also working to assist families in need, but Scully knows from his work that problems befall families in many ways and sometimes it takes outside intervention to get started again.
A few presents under the tree and a few smiles on young faces echoing Virginia's old question about whether Santa Claus really exists may be just enough to make that start.
Scully began carrying Santa's bag of toys four years ago after leadership of the department's longtime Christmas party passed from former Chief Michael L.A. Houle to Capt. Ronald Landry and then to Scully when Landry took at job as chief of the Millville Police Department.
The toy drive, kicking off after Thanksgiving, counted on collection days outside the former Walmart on Diamond Hill Road for many of its toys, and also gained the help of local community service organizations, the Because He Lives Soup Kitchen, and a number of volunteers.
The drive would end with a big party for the kids at the Because He Lives Soup Kitchen in the First Baptist Church on Blackstone Street as Santa handed out presents to the kids showing up with their families over the course of several hours.
This year, the officers lost the option of collections at Walmart when the store moved to a new home in North Smithfield. They also could not hold an actual party for the kids in light of the closing of the Because He Lives Soup Kitchen due to unresolved building problems.
Scully and Kerrigan decided to go forward with the collections despite those roadblocks and still got help from their past donors for a modified drive. Cash donations of $500 each came in from Cercle Laurier and the Woonsocket Lions Club. Trinity Rehab on St. Joseph's Street gave $200 and Menard's Funeral Home gave another $100. The family of the late Ron Auger, a past department dispatcher, held its third annual connection at Ron's home on Wood Avenue on Dec. 18, and Scully said the good weather on that day helped the Augers amass more than two truckloads of toys from people stopping by to drop off. Police dispatcher Brandon Pinette showed up to help the family with the heavy work as did Police Sgt. Kevin Greenough.
Without a place to hold the annual party, the police officers decided to conduct a distribution similar to what the local Adopt-a-Family program does each year. The presents were handed over to families under a schedule of appointments at the police station that concluded on Friday.
The last bag of gifts went out Friday to the mother of six children, ages infant to 9, who, Scully said, had been referred to the officers by St. Agatha's Church.
Scully said it was clear when some the families showed up that they have been hit hard by the economy and that under their personal circumstances, toys are a luxury they can't afford.
"If you call, I will try to accommodate you," Scully said of the assistance the police were able to provide such families.
When the distribution ended, the police elves also passed along toys to a couple of other organizations requesting assistance for local families. In past years the police officers have had a few additional presents to donate to even more organizations but that bounty was more limited this year.
Scully said he works the drive each year because he knows there is a need for it. And, there are other reasons that he continues to remain involved, the same reasons his donors continue to show up to help.
"I just think it makes me feel good and makes the people who help out feel good," he said. That is reason enough for anyone to believe in Santa Claus.