By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The end of June is an unlikely time to think about winter outerwear, but three officers of the Tucumcari Police Department are already making plans to launch the department’s second Cops and Coats campaign in September.
That’s when they would like to start soliciting donations of cold-weather jackets and coats for elementary school students, countywide this year, according to Sgt. Bryan Holmes.
“We’d like to start distributing coats before Halloween, when it starts to get cold,” Kenny Fernandez, who is credited with developing the Cops and Coats idea last year.
The program distributed coats and jackets to 65 Tucumcari Elementary School students last year.
The idea occurred to Fernandez and Holmes as they were on school patrol on a cold day last winter when they watched a lot of kids walking to school without jackets around Tucumcari Elementary School.
They received support from Officer Eric Padilla and the three worked with TES Principal Tonya Hodges to devise a system to locate kids who needed coats and organize the drive.
They got a very strong response.
Donations of coats and jackets came from school parents. Fellow officers bought coats and jackets, while Holmes, Fernandez and Padilla bought many coats themselves.
They got community donors involved. The Tucumcari ALCO store chipped in by giving a 20-percent discount to anyone who bought a coat or jacket for Cops and Coats, Fernandez said.
Contributions from Tucumcari’s Assembly of God Church and Living Well, a Healing Ministry, where Fernandez’s father Ken Fernandez is pastor, were particularly generous, he said.
This year, Holmes said, “We want to add San Jon, Logan and House.”
By starting early, the officers hope to lay some groundwork that will allow them to hit the ground running in their donation drive, starting Sept. 1.
Fernandez said Cops and Coats now has a bank account with Everyone’s Federal Credit Union.
“Some people who can’t afford to donate a coat will be able to contribute $5 or $10 to the fund,” he said.
Their enthusiasm got a big boost two weeks ago with a surprise donation of $500.
It came from Letabeth Wagers, a former Tucumcari resident who is now a police dispatcher in Douglas, Wyo.
“Please accept this donation for this year’s coat drive,” Wagers said. She said she made the donation “in honor and memory of my father who would have been proud to be part of your graciousness toward children.”
Her father, Joe Wagers, who was a state police officer in the 1960s and 1970s, she said.
Holmes summed up the cops and coats drive’s goal as, “Any kid who needs a coat this winter should have a coat.”
Tucumcari Police are also launching a toy drive for Christmas this year, an effort that Padilla will coordinate.
“We’re thinking of calling it ‘Santa Cops,’” he said.