By Diamond Richardson
LONGVIEW, Texas— Children in Longview had the opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive way during Buckner’s Summer Food Service Program at Belaire Manor Apartments Friday, July 15, where the Longview Police Department volunteered.
“By being here, the police officers are showing the kids that they care about them,” said Michelle Heflin, Buckner community programs supervisor. “The kids are able to see them in a friendly environment and not just as the big bad police man.”
This is the first time the Police Department has volunteered at the program, which was created to feed children in low-income communities who receive free and reduced lunch. Because free and reduced lunch programs only operate during the school year, the food service program fills the gap in the summer to ensure that children age 1 to 18 are receiving healthy lunches.
Four officers and the department sergeant were on hand to serve food to 35 children. Before lunch, the officers let the children get in the squad cars, play with lights, sit on the motorcycle and explained to them what the equipment on their belt was for. They also handed out gift bags.
“Many parents have told us that these apartments are a rough place to live,” Heflin said. “The kids usually don’t leave the apartments if we are not here, so we just want to provide them with opportunities to be kids and have a normal summer.”
For many of the children, the police visit was a highlight of their summer.
“I really like the motorcycle because I used to play a police game at home, and I am really good at it,” said 11-year-old Jadia Jackson.
Others, like Brandon Freeman, 10, enjoyed the preview of a possible future career.
“I like having the police here because they are fun, and I want to be a police officer,” he said.
The officers from the Longview Police Department enjoyed playing with the children and are thankful for the service the program provides.
“Without this program, some of these kids would not be eating,” said Officer James Bray. “It also shows them that there are people in the community that care and want to help and that police officer do not always have to be the bad guys”
Sergeant Larry Webb agreed.
“We volunteer to build relationships with the community. People usually have a negative interaction with the police, so this is a way for us to positively interact with the children.”
Heflin views organizations like Buckner and the Police Department’s presence in the community as a stable influence in many of the children’s lives.
“We are not just here to hand out food, we are here to be a friend. Tay [Tavion Morgain, one of the children who live at Belaire Manor] waves at us everyday when we drive up; he’s waiting for us. We’re glad we can be that constant thing in his life.”
The food service program, made possible by the East Texas Food Bank, runs weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Aug.19 at Belaire Manor and Highland Village Apartments in Longview.
To learn more about the ways you or your organization can volunteer with Buckner, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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