Unwrapping smiles

Published 10:34 am Thursday, December 21, 2017

MURFREESBORO – The joy on each face was unmistakable. There’s always a moment when the eyes widen with excitement and the lips form a smile or grin. Sometimes there’s also an enthusiastic shout of “yes!” or “thank you!” as well.

For the 22 students of Riverview Elementary School’s Exceptional Children classes, that’s exactly how each child looked when they received personalized Christmas gifts here Friday morning.

The presents came as a result of an outreach program the Murfreesboro Police Department sponsored in partnership with the elementary school located within the town. It began about seven or eight years ago with Sergeant James Dilday who was teaching D.A.R.E. classes for students at Riverview.

“I would just walk up and down the halls, and I came across Mrs. Jones’ class,” Dilday explained, referring to a former Exceptional Children class teacher who helped him coordinate the gift program in the years before she retired.

“My heart went out to these students,” Dilday said.

Margaret Smith, a current teacher for Exceptional Children at Riverview, reached out to Dilday to start up the program again, after a few years where the police department and the school were unable to coordinate.

“This is the first year we started back up,” Dilday said, grateful for the opportunity to provide gifts for the children once more.

The Murfreesboro Police Department has a Christmas fund which accepts monetary donations, mostly from local businesses, to be used for the children’s gifts. The department then writes a check for the teachers to use to purchase the presents.

“What I think is really neat about this is the teachers actually shop for the students,” Dilday added, explaining the reason is that they’re able to pick out specific presents which match up to each student’s interests.

On Friday morning, one kid who loves sports ripped through wrapping paper to receive a basketball and a football. Another with artistic interests had a big grin on his face when he received a coloring book. A young girl who loves fashion held up a pair of brightly-colored leggings right away to judge if it was the right size.

The kids ranged from pre-school age through fifth grade. The older students received a smart watch as one of their gifts, much to their excitement.

“This can’t be true,” one boy exclaimed in disbelief as he saw the smart watch box.

Each child sat on Santa Claus’ lap to open their presents, while Sgt. Dilday helped by passing Santa each sack of gifts. Fellow MPD police officer Sgt. David Griffith snapped pictures of the children while they tore through wrapping paper with huge smiles on their faces.

After each present was opened, the children were treated to sandwiches and cookies, courtesy of the local Subway.

“The business owners of Murfreesboro, they really are very generous. That’s how we support this,” Dilday explained. “I definitely want to show as much appreciation to the businesses because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do it. Some give until it hurts.”

Dilday also praised the entire police department for working together to collect the donations and make the program successful once again. He said Police Chief Chris Sumner, as well as former Chief Darrell Rowe, were very supportive of community outreach programs.

In addition, the Murfreesboro Police sponsored another Christmas project in conjunction with the town’s Dollar General and Riverview Elementary. The Dollar General put up an Angel Tree to benefit students at the local school. On Monday, Sgt. Dilday took the Angel Tree presents donated at the store and the police department, and then delivered them to Riverview’s school counselor to be distributed.

“I’m really happy that our community allows us to do this kind of thing. The whole point of the holiday season is to give,” Dilday said.

It was easy to see how the act of giving put a smile on each of the children’s faces Friday morning.

When asked which present was his favorite, one young boy answered with “this, this, and this,” pointing to each of his new toys, unable to choose just one.