Armed with carts and detailed shopping lists, 11 Cattaraugus County deputy sheriffs took to the aisles of Walmart on a special mission — to deliver Christmas to needy area families.
Since 2012 the Santa Sheriff Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation has supported the program through the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office.
This year, Santa Sheriff brought Christmas to more than 70 children across Cattaraugus County.
Every year, the Santa Sheriff Fund gives grants to purchase GOACC gift cards that are used to shop for the families. This year, the fund purchased $3,000 in gift cards for the program.
But, according to Lt. Melanie Churakos, the deputies also used cash from different fundraisers in their shopping, so in total about $5,500 in toys, coats, clothes and other gifts will be under the tree for Cattaraugus County families this year.
For the last few years, she says, School Resource Officers (SROs) have played an important role in the Santa Sheriff mission, as the recipients have been referred to the program through the school to the SROs.
“The SROs have helped with the shopping, which is a big task,” Churakos says. “And the SROs have a connection with the kids, so that really helps.”
When the deputies gathered before their shopping mission, a number of them flashed a smile and the detailed notes that they had made about their families in addition to the wish list provided to them.
Since 2012 the fund has made possible over $62,000 in support for the Santa Sheriff program.
That is a lot of presents under a lot of trees.
Churakos, who has worked with others in the department to lead the program, is proud of the impact the program has had during the holidays over the years, but she is just as excited for the future of the program as it begins a transition to new leadership.
“I am very proud of the participation of the School Resource Officers this year, and I welcome Sergeant Tonya Dry to the leadership role of Santa Sheriff,” she says.
Donations can be made to the Santa Sheriff Fund at CRCF, 301 N. Union St., Suite 203, in Olean, or online at cattfoundation.org.