Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Ryan Botzenmayer isn’t sure how it will all work out – he just knows it will.
He believes people will donate enough toys and food for the 39th annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg Explorer Post Christmas Project, and that police officers and other volunteers will have enough time to organize it all.
And later this week, Botzenmayer knows, caravans of CMPD patrol cars and box trucks will spread out into Mecklenburg County neighborhoods and provide a Christmas for families who otherwise might not be able to celebrate.
“It seems wild right now,” Botzenmayer said one day last week, in the midst of collecting toys donated by students at the British American School in Charlotte. “But it all comes together. And it’s wonderful to see.”
The project began in 1974, when Charlotte police officers and a handful of Explorer Scouts sponsored by the police department collected gifts and provided Christmas for 15 families.
This year, the project will help nearly 700 families, including more than 1,800 children.
“It’s indescribable, watching it happen,” said CMPD Officer Robert Campos. “You have to see it to believe it.”
Operating from a donated warehouse in the Carowinds area, CMPD officers and Explorer Scouts have worked on their free time for several weeks, organizing donations from the community. The drive is getting an added boost with the support of WLNK-FM (107.9, the Link).
The warehouse and trucks to pick up the items are donated to the effort.
CMPD Capt. Kathy Nichols, who has been involved in the project for many years, said police and WLNK work with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools counselors and social services workers to identify children and families in need.
Nichols said food donations are a big part of the effort.
“When these children are out of school for the two-week Christmas break, it puts a strain on the families to feed the children three meals a day,” she said.
So in addition to bringing gifts, police also are bearers of 60-pound boxes of food.
The recipients are all across the county.
“Sometimes you’re really surprised at who needs the help,” Botzenmayer said. “It can be in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t expect people to need help.”
Police say many of the donations are from grassroots efforts, such as that at the British American School. Its 156 students contributed dozens of games and toys.
“Every one of these gifts was bought by children,” said the school’s principal, Adam Stevens. “It’s children buying for children.”
Sixth-grader Maddie Syfert, 13, said, “I think, ‘What would I want for Christmas?’ And that’s what I get” to donate.
Over the next few days, the maelstrom of activity at the warehouse will increase, as police organize the gifts and prepare to deliver them.
“The deliveries can be emotional,” Campos said. “Families breathe a sigh of relief. They know Christmas will happen for them this year.”
Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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