By Edward Cardenas
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – A police car with a red nose and antlers led a nearly mile-long convoy of vehicles that crisscrossed the city Thursday bringing presents and joy to families in Detroit.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig led the caravan of gift-filled rides to the homes of the first recipients of the WWJ Newsradio 950 and Detroit Police Department’s initial Sergeant Santa Holiday Program.
The first stop for Craig, who was joined by Detroit police officers and representatives of WWJ, was the home of India Williams, a 7-year-old who was struck by a stray bullet this summer.
The young girl was at physical therapy, but her family was there to accept the gifts from a line of well-wishers that stretched nearly the entire block of her home.
“I didn’t think it would be like this. When they said the chief was coming by, I didn’t know the chief and everybody,” said Clinique Williams, India’s mother, who was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. “I am just so grateful that people care.”
And even though India was not at home, Craig added that he was going to fulfill her wish of receiving a cash register for Christmas.
Her cash register was one of nearly 10,000 gifts donated to the inaugural Sergeant Santa program.
Donations to the program ranged from collections at Detroit Police precincts along with the Detroit Section Society of Plastics Engineers, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Wayne State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Tim Hortons, Ultimate Fun Productions’ Santa Hat Hustle in Royal Oak, DPD and WWJ Newsradio 950 listeners and employee collection efforts.
The program was initially proposed this fall by WWJ midday anchor Jackie Paige and her producer Terri Lee-Sylvester. The team worked with the WWJ promotions department and Detroit Police to launch the program.
“It started as a very small thing … and it came together. Detroit police were very happy to do this,” said Paige, who added that top department officials wanted to personally deliver gifts from generous donors. “We have thousands of toys to deliver to children.”
In addition to the gifts delivered to the families — which were selected by officers in each precinct — department personnel also distributed donated gift cards to residents in the neighborhoods.
This effort helps build the connection between the department and the residents, said Sgt. Michael Woody (aka Sergeant Santa), along with providing officers an opportunity to interactive with residents in an uplifting event.
“We get to see the smiles on the young kid’s face, and bring some joy to the community,” Woody said.
The collaboration between the Detroit police department, community, media and business to help support those in need led to a “great day” in the city, Craig said.
“We are one. We are in this together,” said Craig. “The way we are going to continue to realize success, we have to be together. Put aside all the differences, take the egos and put them out, we are in this fight together. We are out of bankruptcy, the city is moving forward, everybody is working in unison. We can continue to do it this way to eliminate violence in this city. It is not a police thing, it is an us thing.’