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Presents from Police delivering smiles to hospitalized children

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, December 9, 2018 1:36 a.m
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Aspinwall acting Chief David Nemec’s Presents from Police consists of officers organizing a toy drive and teaming up with Santa to deliver gifts to patients at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Etna, Millvale, Shaler and Reserve officers are collecting new, unwrapped toys for delivery Dec. 20.

Other North Hills forces and the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department also partner in the program.

Nemec said the program is about officers getting involved to “take some of the stress off the parents that have children in the hospital during the holiday season.”

“Parents are torn between wanting to be there every minute with them (their children), but still want them to have a meaningful Christmas. Officers are protectors, providers, friends and also parents. They also know these feelings and are empathetic to their needs.”

In 2011, Nemec shared his idea with fellow Aspinwall Officer Shawn McMinn and Millvale’s Deputy Chief Mike Vith. He also spoke with his friend and former WPXI-TV anchor Jodine Costanzo, who connected him with UPMC Children’s representatives.

“This all took place within about two weeks before Christmas. I kind of thought this would be a local thing never thinking it would grow the way it has. I felt this was truly a blessing from God — that’s why it keeps growing the way it does,” he said.

The first year, nine officers delivered toys in five police cars to the hospital. Last year, City of Pittsburgh motorcycles led 44 cars and two toy-filled box trucks to the medical facility. Additionally, Presents from Police has expanded to include stops at Squirrel Hill’s The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh and Monroeville’s Sunrise School.

Vith aims to fill 45 to 50 police vehicles with toys this year. He said that many officers look forward to participating and have encouraged their friends who work in neighboring jurisdictions to donate.

“I mean, I’ve got two chiefs who are brothers in neighboring departments who are kind of friendly battling with each other to see whose group can get the most toys.”

Reserve Chief James Etherington said that he is “proud and thankful” that his department participates in Presents from Police.

“I feel that it is important to participate in this event because this sheds a positive light on police officers in a time when there has been so much negativity and criticism on law enforcement. This event provides joy to the children and families at Children’s Hospital that cannot be home for the holiday.”

Following the toy delivery, those staying at UPMC Children’s have the opportunity to take photos with Santa and select multiple gifts with their parents from “tables upon tables with toys” in the hospital’s sixth-floor atrium, Vith said.

“We appreciate the community support of the Presents from Police program and the joy that it brings to these children that, unfortunately, must spend Christmas in the hospital,” Shaler police Lt. Sean Frank said. “It becomes very emotional when the children come down from their rooms to pick out their presents and even more touching as officers go room-to-room to visit those kids that can’t come to the atrium. It really shows the human side of these law enforcement officers.”

“When you see these sick children walking up with their IVs, or wearing face masks over their mouths with their parents or caregivers and still have this joy in their eyes or smiles on their faces, this is what makes all my sleepless nights, running around like crazy and talking to whoever will listen to get the word out there, all worthwhile. Every present is a smile delivered with love,” Nemec said.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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