PEPPERELL -- It's that time of year again: the Pepperell Police Department is hosting its own version of Secret Santa, adapting the classic gift-exchange game into a charitable cause. The Police Department is seeking families to take on the role of "Secret Santa," matching them anonymously with other local families in need to provide them with support in the form of children's presents this holiday season.
"We're trying to get families to adopt other families," said Police Chief David Scott.
Although the program is a long-standing tradition, this year, the department is hoping to change the program a little bit; they are trying to make it all family adoptions as opposed to assorted donations.
"We will still accept single toy or monetary donations, but we are hoping to do all matched adoptions," said Scott. "It is sort of a transition year. We'll see how it goes."
The department is currently accepting the names of both donators and recipients. Those looking to participate can call or stop by the Police Department by Dec. 7. Families looking to be recipients will be asked for basic information such as names, addresses and children's ages and genders. They will also be asked to show proof of residency in Pepperell and explain circumstances around the need for assistance. Families will be notified by Dec. 11 if they have been accepted into the program.
Sponsor families will receive a list of the "adopted" family's children that include only the gender and age. The Police Department requests that sponsors only donate brand new, wrapped gifts labeled with the child's age and gender, and to drop off the gifts at the Police Station by Dec. 19.
The program began in the early 1990s, and was taken over by Sgt. Bill Greathead in 1996.
"We saw a need: kids that needed their holiday brightened up," said Greathead. "Even back when times were good, there were still people in need."
In previous years, the department would acquire names of families in need through phone calls to the stations from friends, family members or school administrators.
"Somebody that cares about somebody else would call us and let us know that they needed help," said Greathead.
The Police Department then organized the assorted donations to match up to the requests provided by the children. Greathead, who said last year he volunteered up to three to four hours a day to operate the program, said the department tries to provide between three and five gifts to each child. Anything that was not supplied through donations, the officers would purchase with the supplied budget. The department's budget for the program is generally between $3,000 and $4,000 and is supplied through donations.
"People drop off $5 or $10 and it just adds up," said Greathead. "We're a very generous town as far as the community."
Additionally, the Pepperell Business Association hosts their annual "Merry Rockmas Bash," the proceeds of which go to the Secret Santa program. This year's event is being held on Dec. 15. The department also receives donations from several businesses in town.
Last year, the department provided for 120 children. Donations included everything from new toys to clothes. Greathead said one family had requested, and received, baby clothes and diapers; another had been in need of a dryer. Greathead said he found them a dryer on Craigslist, drove up to Salem, N.H., to retrieve it and hired a plumber to install it.
Once all of the gifts have been delivered to the station, officers will go out in their cruisers to deliver the gifts to the families.
"People are in need and people are suffering and Christmas is for kids," he said. "We try to make Christmas a little brighter for the children. It should be the spirit of giving and making someone's life a little better."