Troop 5 spreads holiday cheer to local families

By Tony E. Windsor

Brushing her brown hair with an oversized hairbrush, five-year-old Crystal Diaz stands barefoot in the living room of her home and tells State Police Officer Cpl/3 Tony Wallace what she wants most for Christmas. With a big, innocent smile, she announces that her heart is set on a Hannah Montana Barbie Doll. Wallace turns to his partner, Cpl/3 Charles "Chuck" Gross and smiling, says how hard it must be to find such a popular Christmas gift. Then like a miracle, Gross hands Wallace a wrapped present to give to the little girl. When she opens the neatly wrapped box inside is her Christmas wish. The little girl screams with laughter and excitement as she holds the Hannah Montana Barbie Doll tightly against her chest. This is what the Troop 5 Needy Family Drive is all about. Thanks to the Delaware State Police Troop 5 annual Needy Family Drive, children in five western Sussex families were treated to toys and clothing for the holidays and their families also received gift cards for groceries. The Troop 5 holiday delivery of gifts to needy families has been a local tradition for 20 years. In recent years the project has been done under the coordination of two of Delaware's finest, Cpl/3 Tony Wallace and Chuck Gross. Early Monday morning, Dec. 22, police officers met with another long-time advocate of the project, local businessman Jim Weller, who has helped with the preparation and delivery of the holiday gifts since it first started in the former Troop 5 headquarters. Weller, who owns Weller's Trailers in Bridgeville, said the project has come a long way since its early days. "I remember when we would collect used toys and clothing and then meet to go through and separate everything and hope to put things together to meet the needs of the families. We would actually be bagging groceries and taking milk and bread to the homes," he said. "Thanks to the support of so many generous people this has become a much more convenient operation." Cpl. Gross said there has been an outpouring from individuals and businesses in the area that have embraced the Needy Family project and helped to make it an important source of support for area people throughout the year. "The people that have been so generous to our project have enabled us to go out and purchase new toys and clothing for families rather than rely on used items," he said. Today, thanks to the support from private citizens as well as local businesses like Walmart and Food Lion, troopers are able to deliver not only new toys and clothes, but also give gift cards to allow the families to purchase grocery items. Cpl. Wallace said the Needy Family Project has expanded an enabled Troop 5 to help support other charity organizations during the year for a variety of issues.

"We have been able to help senior citizens who are on fixed incomes and need medication and also families who have had problems making their utility bills," he said. "We wish we could do more and help even more people, but we are willing to do what we can until we have exhausted our funds." Gross said the Needy Family Project typically focuses its efforts on western Sussex County, but thanks to the support of an anonymous donor, there are also two families on the eastern side of Sussex who are receiving some Christmas cheer this year. The Troop 5 project receives referrals for its annual Christmas Needy Family Drive from area school police resource officers and nurses, as well as area social service agencies. Once the families are identified, the officers will visit and talk to the parents to find out what types of Christmas presents the children are hoping for and what size clothes they wear. The officers then purchase the gifts and meet back at a facility, provided by Jim Weller, where all the gifts will be wrapped and packaged for the holiday run. This year five families located in Seaford, Laurel and Delmar are recipients of the Troop 5 project. In all, children ages three to 17 are getting the special Christmas visit from the state police officers. Christine Mulford, a mother of three, underwent cancer surgery only a few days ago. Her children, Kaleb, 7, Elijah, 6, and Cameron, 4, were thrilled when they received a Smart Cycle, a DX personal game console and several other Christmas dreams from the Troop 5 officers. "I have been sick and unable to work," she said. "I don't know how I would have been able to provide a Christmas for my children without the help of the State Police. This is wonderful and I appreciate it so much," she said. The caravan of police vehicles drives down US 13 to the home of Crystal and Raymond Diaz. The 18-foot trailer hauled by Weller pulls in front of the home. The back door opens and Weller joins officers Wallace, Gross, Tfc. Greg Cartwright, Capt. Greg Nolt and Sgt. Joshua Bushweller inside where they haul out Christmas boxes and bags of toys. In true Santa fashion, the group files into the house laying the packages under the tree. Ricardo Diaz's face lights up as he watches his young children take the gifts one by one from the police officers and then tear open the wrapping to reveal a toy that they had wished for. The children, Crystal, 5, and Ricardo and Ryder, both 4, thank the officers profusely as they play with the toys. "My wife is at work right now, but we have had a very hard time this year," Ricardo said. "Thank you, thank you for everything. I am so happy to see the children so happy. It means so much." The Troop 5 group still had three more deliveries to make, but if the children who had been recipients of the first two deliveries are any indication, it would be a very enjoyable rest of the morning. For more information about the Troop 5 Needy Family Project or to make a contribution, contact Wallace or Gross at 337-1090.

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