Children in Brooklyn and Queens received gifts for the Christmas holiday in an effort by the Police Benevolent Association to not only reach out to the youth they serve, but also to help provide a positive experience with police in their communities.
Despite the rainy weekend, police officers, kids and members of the Brownsville and Far Rockaway communities gathered at two recreation centers – the first at the Church of the Nazarene in Far Rockaway and the other, the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brooklyn — to get into the holiday spirit and to bring a positive message going into the new year.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) teamed up with members of those communities and brought two van loads of toys to local kids and join the community for a holiday celebration.
Bringing gifts to low-income communities is a “long PBA tradition,” said PBA President Pat Lynch.
PBA members, officers from the 101st Precinct and church volunteers helped to unload presents from the vans as numerous families lined up outside the community center waiting for their gifts.
After giving out the piles of gifts in Rockaway, a caravan of cops headed to the Brownsville Recreation Center, where hundreds of children were having their holiday party with dancers, a magician, karate demonstrations, arts and crafts, and plenty of snacks. A room full of toys awaited those kids as well.
Reverend Les Mullings of the Church of the Nazarene said it is more important than ever for police to connect with children at a young age for their community leaders to reach children to “teach them respect – because if you teach them that, they will never hurt somebody.”
“The next generation needs to get used to working hand in hand because there has been a bad culture over the years, and the only way to change that is to train our kids that the police are your friends. They are here to protect and serve them – protect them from the thieves and bad guys, and that’s why they are there,” Mullings said.
Mullings was particularly distressed by the young teens reportedly connected to the murder of a Barnard College freshman in Morningside Heights this week.
“We have to start working with children early,” Mullings said. “Raising a child is a 24-hour job, not just giving them something to eat and sending to school, but teaching them what is right: respect, honor and what it means to be a good citizen and that they are accountable to somebody.”
Jerry Childs, manager of the Brownsville Recreation Center welcomed the PBA saying their participation with the children goes a long way to improving police community relations and teaching children.
“It is so important to have the police as a partnership with the community so it is a blessing to have the police involved in this beautiful Christmas celebration,” Childs said. “It is so important to have children engaged in positive activity and then it gives less opportunity to be involved in other activities that are contradictory to the community – and that’s very important to the children.”
Lynch said NYPD and his union have been working to improve perceptions of police officers in the neighborhood, and to provide a good example to the children. He recalled Police officer Randolph Holder, shot to death in Harlem in 2015, grew up in Far Rockaway and participated in the Church of the Nazarene.
“Today is a day for children to get a gift and prepare for Christmas, but also the message is that these police officers are here to keep the community safe,” Lynch said. “Today’s a day we feel like we are coming home just to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to you.”
The PBA plans to visit Three Kings Church in the Bronx in January to treat children there to a new year celebration.