Two-thirds of the way through the video — showing Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves and accompanying St. Paul police officers visiting young patients at Children’s Hospital of St. Paul — you see him.
A little boy, tubes running everywhere, eyes closed, in a hospital bed.
“So, from the North, we bring you healing, and we bring you courage, Little Man,” Santa Claus says softly to the tiny patient. And there, in that moment, is really the idea behind the department’s Cops and Kids program. Not presents, per se, nor even the visiting police dogs and police horses.
What these officers have been delivering to thousands of children and their families, confined by illness and injury to Children’s and Gillette hospitals, is joy in a time of hardship. And not just for the children.
“It is probably one of the most inspirational things you have ever seen,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster, who has volunteered for years. “Officers witness the courage of the kids … and they walk out of there a little lighter.”
Officers involved with the Cops and Kids program this year visited the hospitals on Dec. 17. They met hundreds of children, distributed hundreds of gifts, and flashed hundreds of smiles.
“It started when a small group of officers would collect money from others, buy presents on their own and buy presents for children,” Ernster said. “It’s still a grass roots thing: we gather money, have contests between shifts. We have a motorcycle run in August and a silent auction at Yarusso’s.”
On their own time, officers use the money raised to buy and wrap gifts for children of all ages so that, on the day of their visit, the Clauses, their elves and even the chief of police can head out, sirens blaring, to spread just a little bit of cheer, a smidgen of joy — and, maybe, a little courage.
“It really has changed lives,” Ernster said of the children he has met and who have touched his heart. “It’s really something.”