Santa is not the only one who is busy this time of year. James Jackson, a sergeant with the Flagstaff Police Department, is a bit of a blur as well. But, like Santa, he is used to it, as he has organized the Holiday Toy Drive in Northern Arizona for the past 17 years.
“This is a very busy time of the year for me. It drives my wife crazy,” he said with a chuckle. “This year, we are collecting not only toys, but we are collecting warm clothing for seniors, food for St. Mary’s Food Banks, cash donations and we are also collecting food for family pets.”
Jackson says the donations can be dropped off at about 20 different locations.
“They can take things to Cal Ranch, Safeway, Mike’s Bikes, Walmart and many other locations. We go to the Flagstaff Mall where we take donations. We do collection bins. We have a toy drive booth.”
He says the need is even greater this year. “The economy, the way it is, we are finding there are more families that need help – more than last year.”
This year, Jackson expects to help 1,200 people locally and in the far-flung areas of the county such as Winslow, Fredonia, Williams, Prescott, Page and the Navajo Nation.
“A number of things touch my heart this time of year,” he said. “Last year, my wife brought to my attention a boy who kept coming to the police station with his grandmother looking to recover his stolen bike,” Jackson said. “The bike was stolen and it was one his grandfather gave him before he died. I felt so bad for this kid.”
When it was clear the little family was needy and the stolen bike would probably never be recovered, Jackson fixed him up with a new bike, a helmet and a bag full of toys.
“You should have seen his face and his grandmother’s face,” said. “They are the reason I do this.”
Another reason is that it helps kids get to know police officers as people and not just a uniform.
“I go into homes where you see the kids where mom or dad has been taken to jail and they [the kids] are afraid of policemen,” he said. “How can they be bad if they hand them bags of toys? Now they are waving at us.”
The needy are identified by officers in the field who observe them year-round. Schools and social services also provide information to the police department.
“This is my baby, but I do work with other agencies besides Flagstaff Police Department. I also work with Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, NAU police, the Forest Service, Winslow Police Department, Sedona Police Department, Prescott Police Department, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Jackson said as a result of the toy drive, he has seen young men and women have told him that they are considering a career in law enforcement. FBN
To learn more, call Sgt. Jackson at 928-556-2300.