Posted 12/29/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
It wasn’t a blue Christmas for 20 Watford City families this year thanks to the “Blue Santas of Watford City.” In fact, it was a Christmas filled with presents and games. Something that these families and their 35 children wouldn’t have been able to experience without the help of the Watford City Police Foundation, which collected monetary donations, toys, and clothing for local children in need this Christmas season.
The goal of the project was to provide under-privileged children in the community with a Christmas they deserve. And that is just what happened on Monday evening, Dec. 21, at the Boulder Ridge Community Center. A special Christmas celebration was held complete with live music, games for the children, face-painting, crafts, and light refreshments.
“It was definitely interesting, being able to put something like this together in such a short amount of time,” said Watford City Police Officer Devin Clark, one of the “Blue Santas of Watford City” board members. “It was very rewarding to see the reactions of the parents when they came to pick up their presents.”
“This was so nice,” said one mother in tears, who attended the Christmas celebration and received gifts for her children. “I am so thankful for what these people did for my kids and our family. I wouldn’t have been able to provide them with these gifts if it hadn’t have been for these kind people. I’m at a loss for words.”
Last year, Kyle Kienholz was a police officer for the Kenmare Police Department where he started a program called “Cops 4 Kids.” The goal of that program was to raise $5,000 in three weeks to provide Christmas gifts to the less fortunate children in his community.
“We ended up raising $7,500 in three weeks, which was over our original goal of $5,000,” said Kienholz. “We were able to have the parents meet us at Kmart on the day we selected and we told each parent that they had $150 to spend on each of the kids. We were able to provide for 35 children last year.”
But, according to Kienholz, that one-day shopping spree wasn’t all that the parents received.
“What we didn’t tell the parents beforehand was that once they reached their $150 limit, we were then going to give them $50 more in Kenmare bucks,” stated Kineholz. “They could spend that additional money on their kids at local Kenmare businesses. It was very successful.”
Kienholz came to Watford City in May of this year to work as a police officer with the Watford City Police Department. He wanted to take his idea with him.
“I wanted to take that idea and incorporate a new idea here,” stated Kienholz. “I brought it up to the personnel here at a meeting and everyone seemed in support of it. So, we got all the paperwork squared away and started planning.”
“Kyle brought the idea up at a meeting and I decided to help out,” said Watford City Police Department Sgt. Shannon Wellen, another “Blue Santas of Watford City” board member. “This was a way we could give back a little to the community. You don’t necessarily always see that with our job, you know. Watching these families walk through the door to pick up their presents - I’ve been holding back the tears.”
The five board members of the “Blue Santas of Watford City” project had about one month to raise the money, collect donations, and organize a successful Christmas celebration, where they could distribute the gifts that would ultimately bring smiles to about 30 to 35 children Christmas morning.
Between the project’s GoFundMe website, their First International Bank & Trust account, local business and private donations, and bagging groceries at Cash Wise for a free-will donation, approximately $14,000 was raised, which was more than their original goal of $10,000.
“This whole experience was really fun,” said Watford City Police Officer Addie Gross, another “Blue Santas of Watford City” board member. “I was very happy to help out the families. I was really excited for the families I got to shop for. And it was fun bagging groceries to help raise money. The community was really open to that.”
The money raised went to families that were nominated through the project’s Facebook site, email, mail, or verbal recommendation.
“We received most of our family nominations through our Facebook site,” said Samantha Schwan, another “Blue Santas of Watford City” board member. “Those nominations came from local community members. And we received a good amount of family names from within the police department - families the officers knew. We were able to provide for about 20 families this year.”
The children the project bought gifts for ranged in age. The oldest child the group bought for was 17 years old. And the youngest was still technically in their mother’s womb, due the day after the Christmas celebration took place. And they bought for both boys and girls.
“It’s really because of the community that this all was possible,” stated Wellen. “We had very little of our own funds in this project. It really is because of the generousness of our community. I just have to say thanks to our community.”
The “Blue Santas of Watford City” project is a project that is definitely being planned for next year. All of the board members and volunteers that helped to make this year’s project successful are hopeful for what next year will bring.
It is projects like these that brighten the season and bring smiles to faces that deserve to enjoy Christmas just as much as everyone else. That’s what the season is about. Giving and happiness.