On the first Saturday in December, Rathbone Hall filled with the sound of laughter when two dozen children from 10 families came to campus to visit with Santa and take part in one of Lehigh’s most successful holiday programs: Shop with a Cop. Each year, officers from the Lehigh University Police Department raise funds to share with local children and then volunteer their time to take the kids to buy presents for themselves and their families.
The program is one of several undertaken by members of the Lehigh community to brighten the holidays for others. Students, faculty and staff have organized clothing drives, the C.O.A.C.H. program in athletics, a Holiday Hope Chest, a Giving Tree and a blood drive.
“We take our role as a community partner very seriously,” said Lehigh Police Chief Ed Shupp. “In addition to serving and protecting the Lehigh community, we see our work with the South Side community as essential in helping to build strong relationships with local families. This program is just one of many, but it’s a favorite of ours because it’s just a great day. I think our officers enjoy it as much as the children do.”
This year, the LUPD raised nearly $7,000 to support the program, which provides presents that the children selected for themselves at a local Walmart. Store volunteers wrapped the presents. Families also received food baskets with all the ingredients necessary for a turkey dinner from Ahart’s Market.
The time the officers spend with the children helps reinforce the message that the police can be seen as allies, not adversaries, Shupp says.
“It also helps our officers build connections with the parents and the local community, which is a primary goal of our community policing program.
“In the 13 years we’ve been doing Shop with a Cop, I don’t think we’ve seen one child we worked with later come back to us with any sort of disciplinary or criminal problem. It’s just one part of the equation, but it’s an important part.”
Making dreams and wishes come true
Another annual tradition with 13 years of success is Lehigh’s C.O.A.C.H. (Community Outreach by Athletes who Care about Helping) program. Directed by Roseann Corsi, public relations coordinator for the athletics department, C.O.A.C.H. held its annual Adopt-A-Family event Dec. 8 at Donegan Elementary School.
As in previous years, athletic teams joined with Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhellenic and departments across the university to “adopt” local families and buy them Christmas presents.
This year, C.O.A.C.H. raised nearly $30,000 to adopt 54 families, Corsi said.
“This event is our favorite of the year. Our student-athletes enjoy it from start to finish—everything from raising funds and shopping for families to wrapping the gifts, meeting the families and then presenting the gifts.
“The best part is seeing how much the families appreciate us helping them in a time of need. We know that we helped make some of the children’s dreams and wishes come true and that there will be many happy children and families in Bethlehem on Christmas morning.”
Other holiday events include:
• A Giving Tree program organized by Lehigh’s Catholic community. Those interested in donating a present to a needy child or mother affiliated with a local Catholic elementary school selected names from a tree behind Packer Memorial Church and returned gifts to the Newman Center for distribution.
• A “Letter from Santa” fundraiser organized by Student Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC) raised $400, said organizers Liz Lucas ‘13, Angelo DiGiacinto ‘12 and Jess Miller ‘11. Personalized letters were directed to friends, relatives or neighbors, with proceeds going to help build a school and a sanitary water system in a Kenyan village.
• A handmade scarf drive organized by Debra Field, professor of practice in the music department, who encourages fellow fiber crafters each winter to knit and crochet scarves and donate them to New Bethany Ministries. “This was a very successful year,” says Field. “We collected 113 scarves and 107 hats.” Donors included faculty and students, a mother of a staff member, and a member of Choral Union.
• A Holiday Hope Chest organized by the community service office. Together with the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, student volunteers filled more than 100 boxes with gifts for local kids.
“These contributions make a tremendous difference to South Bethlehem families in need,” said Carolina Hernandez, director of the community service office, who has run the program for 10 years. Hernandez’s office also worked with Psi Upsilon and the Class of 2013 to hold the second blood drive of the semester at Ulrich Student Center and help maintain local blood supplies during the holiday season.
“The Lehigh family is incredibly generous year-round with our South Bethlehem community, and especially thoughtful and compassionate this time of year,” said Hernandez. “I am extremely proud to be a part of this community.”