The Tomahawk Ridge Community Center in Overland Park was the picture of festiveness Friday.
A group of volunteers’ hands flew over a wide swath of tables in the community room, wrapping colorful holiday paper and bows around dozens of gifts. A few feet away police officers from Overland Park, Merriam and Lenexa as well as representatives from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joked around and decorated cookies with a group of Shawnee Mission School District kids.
It was easy to understand why spirits were so bright. The kids, cops and volunteers were celebrating the conclusion of a big day. As part of the 6th annual “Operation Rudolph” charitable event, 23 sixth grade students from Shawnee Mission elementaries had gotten to go shopping for gifts for themselves and their families at the Blue Valley Parkway Target, which also donated gift cards to the kids. After the shopping trip, during which they were accompanied by members of the police departments, the kids headed to Tomahawk Ridge, where the presents got wrapped while the students decorated cookies and got to visit Santa. The students, who came from Shawnee Mission schools with high free-and-reduced lunch enrollment, also got a basket filled with all the ingredients for a full holiday meal.
“The Principals at the schools were asked to work with their staff to identify the students who would most benefit
from this event,” said Kimberly Hinkle, executive director of the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation.
While the event was a great day for the kids, the police and volunteers said it was a heartwarming holiday experience for them as well.
Angela Fitzgerald, whose husband is a captain in the Overland Park Police Department, was volunteering for the second year in a row.
“The season can get so crazy and hectic, sometimes you just have to find a way to get involved in something to remind you what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s great to see the kids faces when they come through.”