YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Several South Side streets were filled with sirens Wednesday, but for a good thing.
Instead of racing to an emergency, Youngstown police were escorting members of the ICU Block Watch as they distributed Christmas gifts to needy families.
This time of year, city police are often filling in for Santa and his helpers. Beginning last week, the department’s Community Police Unit was passing out gift cards to needy families also.
Victoria Allen, head of the block watch that puts on events year round for the kids in the neighborhood, said they have been giving gifts for several years. This year’s gifts were donated by the Youngstown Chapter of Links, Inc.
Three cruisers helped escort Allen and her helpers and carried extra gifts for them as well. She delivered gifts to houses on East Lucius, East Avondale and Brooklyn avenues, among others. Children lined up on their porches or if they were small enough, held by family members as Allen and her helpers made their rounds.
One of those who received gifts was Martha Flickinger, who was holding her toddler, Caleb. Rifling through a gift bag she was given were some toys, including building blocks and books.
Flickinger said because of the economic ravages bought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the gifts were much needed for her and her family.
“It’s very important,” Flickinger said. “We’re not able to do much because of the COVID, so this is a very nice thing by the block watch.”
Last week on the North Side, Officer Shakir Perkins of the CPU was delivering cards to a pair of residents on his beat in the city’s Third Ward.
Scott Signor, who received one of the cards, said they would make a difference in the way he and his four children can celebrate the holiday.
“This will allow us to put some stuff under the tree for these guys,” Signor said.
His kids were unanimous in their desire for one present, Signor said.
“They all want cell phones,” he said.
A couple days later, Leonard Vanderholl was at Crandall Park as his one of children was sledriding down the famed hill. Vanderholl said the cards will also make a difference for his three children. He received two cards.
“It’s going to make it wonderful for my kids because it was looking like it was going to be a real tight Christmas, the way money is, so this helps a lot,” Vanderholl said.
Not just the kids will be getting gifts; the family’s two dogs will also partake, Vanderholl said.
“They’re going to get a treat as well,” he said.
Police Chief Robin Lees said the cards, which have been distributed just about every year since he has been chief, are donated to the department by Handels Ice Cream under an initiative first proposed by Handels CEO Lenny Fisher.
Lees said Fisher’s vision was to foster better relations between the community and the police, which is why he donated the cards to the department for the officers to give out as they see fit.
Other units in the department are giving away the cards, not just the community police.
But the department was also on the receiving end of some gifts Wednesday, taking delivery of 200 poinsettias from Pettiti Garden Center on South Avenue. They will be distributed throughout the police station.