Houston police officers have made a habit of developing strong and effective community partnerships that result in good things happening.
Yes, we have another example – the Central Patrol Thanksgiving Food Drive, a first-of-its-kind event that unfurled Nov. 16, the Thursday before the week of Thanksgiving.
Working with community partners such as the personnel at Martinez Elementary School north of downtown and a dedicated group known as the North Central Civic Association, Central’s DRT officers and the patrol officers from 2 Adam 10’s district set a goal and proceeded to meet it.
Led by community services officer Michael Francois, the effort soon involved Martinez Elementary’s Heather Arriaga and two other personnel from the Houston Independent School District – Jessica Sarpu and Sandra Medeles. Arriaga and Sarpu are what is term “wraparound specialists” – basically the school’s designated liaisons to needy students and families in this area, which is located north of downtown and east of Interstate 45.
Officer Francois also singled out Capt. (Commander) Tinsley Guinn-Shaver, Lt. Chris Davis and Sgt. James Roque and Chad Wall for their leadership in this initial Thanksgiving outreach to the community. And then there was HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith, who effected a $500 Union donation for this project. The North Central Civic Association kicked in $384.
“We wanted to provide turkeys and ‘the sides’ – cranberry sauce, gravy and other side dishes – to at least 70 families from this area,” Francois explained. “We partnered with members of the community to make it work.”
The coordinating officer said ultimately HEB sold Central the 70 turkeys and trimmings at a reduced rate. Logistics called for the officers to supply the designated families with frozen turkeys that the families in turn would be able to take to their homes and cook for their Thanksgiving dinner.
There were plenty of bonding experiences involved.
“Many of these families rely on public transportation,” Francois reported. “Others have their own cars but may have needed help carrying this heavy frozen turkey from the school to the vehicle.”
Officers were there to help – from Central Patrol, the Bike Unit and DRT.
“It makes it a little bit more personal,” Francois said. “We saw that some of the families had difficulty getting back home and we were able to provide courtesy rides to their homes.”
The families live in the general area around Martinez and appeared to be thankful to get turkeys weighing up to 12 pounds, sometimes more. The boxed dressing, dinner rolls and can goods made for easy logistics. The distribution began at 3:45 p.m. and lasted until about 6:30.
The pound factor was significant, Francois pointed out. He said the 70 turkeys obtained from HEB were usually in the 12-pound range but officials at the grocery chain only charged by the pound based on the eight-pound rate. “We certainly appreciated the cheaper rate,” he said.
Fundraising for the project started a few months back. All told, the officers raised more than $1,500, including the generous Union and civic association contributions.
Francois said a total of 62 families showed up to pick up their turkey dinners. They were specifically identified by school personnel and were accounted for at the distribution point at Martinez Elementary. Francois praised the community leaders and school personnel present for their help in what could have been a difficult identification process.
The eight “leftover” turkeys were turned over to the school administrators, who distributed them to other needy families in the area who weren’t able to make the Nov. 16 event with Central officers.
“We were happy with our first Thanksgiving Food Drive,” Francois said, “and we believe next year we will have more turkey dinners for more people in this community.”