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Officers to bring cheer to area kids

Community help needed

By Josette Keelor

If the Front Royal Police Department has its way, there won't be any more blue Christmases for children in and around Warren County -- but that all depends on community donations.

On Dec. 14, officers will gather at the government center to meet with selected children before heading off to Kmart for an organized shopping spree. The children will be buying Christmas gifts for themselves and their families, and they will wrap them after a breakfast that morning at the American Legion.

This year marks the eighth annual Operation Blue Christmas sponsored by the Town of Front Royal Police Foundation Inc., but organizers say they need the public's continued support to keep it going.

Officer Jennifer Lowery, who took the reins this year, said it costs about $10,000 to put on the program. The foundation covers any gaps in funding.

"So you can imagine the donations that we need," she said.

Thanks to several repeat donors and late December contributions last year, this year's program is a go, but "we can always use more," she said. Each of the 51 participants this year should receive $150 to use at Kmart, and the rest of the money goes to paying for breakfast and other expenses.

For Detective Crystal Cline of the Front Royal Police Department, seeing the excitement in the children's faces is the reason she and her husband plan to participate for a third year.

"More and more kids are being put on the list," she said. The foundation has had to turn away children, and Cline said she thinks they will again this year, "which is unfortunate."

"It has grown considerably,' she said. Last year there was a waiting list.

Normally the program accepts 50 children -- 10 from each of Warren County's five elementary schools recommended by their teachers, but this year Lowery said she couldn't turn away the younger brother of one of the participants who came in under the line.

Cline said each child, no matter how big the family, receives an equal amount of money to spend, so the more money available, the better Christmas morning will be for area families who have fallen on hard times.

She said that from what she has seen, the rewards last long after the holidays end.

"I mean, it's not all toys," she said. She's helped children pick out winter coats, pajamas and other clothing, and the foundation has asked that participating families help their children record necessary items to their shopping lists before they add in wants.

According to Cline, the number of participants also depends on law enforcement representatives. So far the response has been pretty big. Last year, children were paired not only with Front Royal police but also with volunteers from the Warren County Sheriff's Office, Loudoun and Fairfax county offices, Virginia State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Officers from all over the region come," she said.

"It's a great event. I absolutely love it."

For more information about Operation Blue Christmas, contact Officer Jennifer Lowery of the Front Royal Police Department at 540-631-2763 or jlowery@frontroyalva.com.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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