Comfort & Joy

Published 11:12 am Saturday, December 22, 2018

MURFREESBORO – There’s almost nothing more fun than ripping the shiny wrapping paper off of a Christmas gift. For the students of Riverview Elementary’s Exceptional Children classes, they had the opportunity to open presents to their heart’s content on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

The personalized gifts were a part of an outreach program from the Murfreesboro Police Department. They coordinate with the three classes for children with special needs, providing money to the teachers who pick out gifts they know their students will enjoy. Sergeant James Dilday is the officer who got the program started a few years ago.

Throughout the year, Dilday talks to local businesses to collect donations to carry out the gift program. But he points out that the program is a team effort which wouldn’t work without the support of everyone, including the entire police department, the school, and the community.

“It’s kind of a unique and special opportunity for us to work with teachers and the school,” he explained.

This year, Dilday said the community pulled together quickly to raise about $1,000 for the 25 students who range in age from three-year-olds up to fifth graders.

Just a week before Christmas this year, representatives of the police department visited the school to see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they opened up their gifts. Dilday was joined by Chief David Griffith and Officer Jared Vinson, one of the department’s newest members.

It was easy to see the joy expressed from all the children, no matter what age. They clapped. They laughed. They shouted with glee. They even danced.

Vinson passed out presents from under the Christmas tree to Santa Claus, and Griffith helped clean up bits of wrapping paper quickly forgotten by the kids as they eagerly uncovered their new toys.

Younger students received toys such as trains and cars and picture books, while the older ones opened boxes containing items such as dolls or action figures or basketballs. The gifts covered a variety of student interests.

“This is just what I wanted!” one young girl exclaimed, holding her gift high up in the air to show her classmates.

Martha Barnes, a teacher for the three- and four-year-old class, expressed her gratitude on behalf of both the students and the parents.

“We’re very grateful for the donations that the police department have given,” she said, also noting the teachers purchase all the gifts locally in order to support the community as well.

“Each present was matched with each student’s individual interests and academic level. They were so happy to receive wrapped presents while talking to Santa,” she added.

Chief Griffith also extended a thank you to the school for allowing them the opportunity to continue the project. He credited Sgt. Dilday for his work coordinating each year.

“It’s a great joint effort to make these children’s lives a little bit happier in the Christmas season. It’s just an awesome thing,” said the Murfreesboro police chief.

Dilday said he was glad to see a young officer like Vinson participate this year. It is a good way, he noted, to build more relationships within the community. He hoped they’ll be able to continue the project for many years to come.

“It’s all about the kids,” Dilday emphasized as he watched each child happily tear off wrapping paper. There were bright smiles on everyone’s faces all around.