A COVID-19 Christmas: Halifax Officials Provide Support Despite the Virus

The Halifax County Sheriff's Office held their eighth annual Stuff the Cruiser event this month. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

December 22, 2020

A Virginia sheriff’s office helped spread Christmas cheer to children through an annual event.

HALIFAX COUNTY – If you typically collect supplies in person, how do you keep that project going during a pandemic? That’s a challenge the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office took on this month, as they worked to help local families.

Every year, the department partners with other county agencies to help local children have a joyous Christmas.

From age three to age 17, the office collects new toys, coats, gloves and clothing to give children.

The Stuff the Cruiser project aims to actively involve law enforcement and the community by working together to help ensure that all Halifax County children receive a gift during the holiday season.

“It’s just a way to make sure that we help out the needy families in the county, to make sure that we can get some type of gift for every child in the county who may be a little bit less fortunate,” said deputy C. Hudson with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office.

A Change

It became clear early on that the sheriff’s office needed to switch up their methodology for finding families.

Typically, the office reached out to area schools. This year, those school weren’t meeting in the classroom, which made locating families in need of assistance more difficult.

“Last year, we reached out to all of the elementary schools in the county and we just asked them if they had anyone who they feel are in need or may need some help to get through the Christmas season,” Hudson said. “Each school normally provides us with two or three or four different families that we can help out.”

The schools provide the sheriff’s office with students’ clothing sizes and a few points of interest for toys.

“Once we get all of that information together, we’ll go out and we’ll do the shopping and we wrap everything,” Hudson said. “We hand deliver it to either their house, or they can meet us here and pick it up. Or in some instances, we drop the stuff off at the schools and the schools arrange for the parents to pick it up there.”

Rather than focusing solely on the school system this year, the sheriff’s office also reached out to other organizations that provided children’s information and wish lists.

“We also partnered with the YMCA this year. They provided us with some names of some families. We were able to gather all of the information and do the shopping for the children,” Hudson said. “TJM Community Center out in Cluster Springs, they do kind of a similar thing. So we partnered with them and we picked up some of the names of the families that they had that needed some help so we could fill some orders as well.”

The Halifax COVID Christmas

When COVID-19 struck, the sheriff’s office took a stance against the virus and its threat toward thwarting Christmas cheer. They announced that their eighth annual Stuff the Cruiser event would continue as planned – well, mostly as planned, with a few pandemic-related changes.

“We felt like the children deserved to have a good Christmas,” Hudson said.

Rather than scaling back or cancelling the program altogether due to the pandemic, the sheriff’s office actually upped their game.

There are seven elementary schools and one early learning center in the Halifax County Public Schools district. If on average the sheriff’s office sponsored Christmas for three families per institution, they’d round out helping approximately 24 families total.

This year, with also assisting the YMCA and the TJM Community Center, that number quadrupled.

“[We had] close to 100 families this year,” Hudson said.

Next came getting enough donations for the large increase in assisted families.

Fingers Crossed

The weekend of Dec. 5 and 6, Hudson, Sheriff Fred Clark and other officers arrived at the South Boston Walmart bright and early. They parked an empty police cruiser in front of the store.

Given the current pandemic, it wasn’t clear how many donations would roll in over the two days – or if it would be nearly enough to distribute to the influx of families requesting assistance.

The officers didn’t bate their breath for long. Donations didn’t trickle in; they poured.

“We had a significant increase in donations to the program,” Hudson said. “This year with the COVID stuff going on, we only set up at Walmart two days, where we normally set up four days. Within them two days, we were able to collect more donations than we did last year and the past year setting up for four days.”

The generosity of the community didn’t end with the physical toy and clothing donations at Walmart.

A few days after the event, Mike Harris, on behalf of the Halifax Masonic Lodge #96, presented Hudson with a check for $500 for the Stuff the Cruiser program.

RELATED: Hay in Huddleston: Local Farmer Keeps Christmas Tradition Alive

Making a Difference in Halifax

COVID hit everyone differently, but for some families, the virus had devastating impacts. Halifax County families weren’t immune.

Aside from physical sickness, another issue plagued several of the families that the sheriff’s office assisted: finances.

“I know a couple of the families that came in, they were suffering from losing a job due to COVID and different things like that,” Hudson said.

Through the Stuff the Cruiser program, the sheriff’s office came to the rescue in a different way – with toys filling their sleigh… er, cruiser.

Beginning Monday on Christmas week, Hudson became a Santa of sorts. He collected all of the wrapped gifts and stuffed his cruiser once again. But this time, the toys weren’t going to the sheriff’s office – they were heading to their homes.

“Most were delivered yesterday,” Hudson said on Tuesday. “We normally try to load them up in the patrol vehicles. We’ll go out and knock on the doors and deliver the gifts to the families.”

Other individuals preferred a different drop off location. The sheriff’s office accommodated their requests.

“I had one family that came here and picked them up,” Hudson said. “Like I said, some schools, we make drop offs at the schools and then the parents make arrangements with the schools from there to pick up everything.”

As Christmas quickly approached, Hudson prepared to spread another day’s worth of holiday cheer.

“We’re not finished,” Hudson said. “When I come back to work tomorrow, I still have, like, two or three more that I have to deliver to.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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