Middletown Police and business owner help kids’ Christmas dreams come true

MIDDLETOWN – A city police officer and new business owner recently partnered on an impromptu project that provided exhilaration and gifts to a local family going through tough times during the pandemic.

Middletown Police Department Community relations Officer Jay Bodell led an effort to adopt a North End family through a toy and gift card drive that surprised two children with more than a dozen personalized gifts, as well as a safe visit from Santa from Middletown.

“I can pretty much guarantee the two kids will never forget this Christmas, and it was the police department and the local businesses that made this possible,” Bodell said.


Just over two weeks ago, he was contacted by the mother of a boy and a girl, asking for a recommendation on efforts that might help him secure gifts for his children. She has experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bodell said.

Coincidentally, that same day, Beth Gyngell, owner of The nutrition spot on College Street, asked if the department is adopting a family this year, Bodell said.

Gyngell was setting up a donation tree and looking for a beneficiary. “The fact that they both called me on the same day: let’s do it. I don’t really know what I’m doing now to do it, but I’ll find out, ”Bodell thought to himself.

The mother of the kids provided ideas on what the kids would love to receive – science books, crayons and painting supplies for the daughter, and Marvel-themed items, cars and trucks for the boy.

Customers joined in the effort by stopping by the smoothie store at 138 College St. and dropping off an age-appropriate toy, Gyngell said. “It’s been a trying year for them, and we want them to have a great Christmas,” she wrote on her Facebook page. In just one week, 22 gifts were collected.

“Part of what we do here, in general, is being able to be a community outlet for everyone – a nice place where people can go and get a bit of positivity; a place to feel better about yourself, ”said Gyngell, who opened his business last October, unknowingly on the cusp of a pandemic.

Its purpose is to host “whatever we can do to give back, be it local sports teams, fundraisers, as much as we can give something back to the community.” That’s the reason we can stay open, ”Gyngell said.

Back at the police department, the records clerks helped wrap the gifts. Bodell’s help. “They’ve definitely had more than the average child would have,” he said of the kids. He also gave the mom more unwrapped gifts from the station’s toy donation box so she could put them under Santa’s Christmas tree.

The only problem was that the family didn’t have one, Bodell said. It turns out that this hurdle was easy to overcome. An employee was getting rid of her 6 foot tall artificial tree and was more than happy to donate it.

Bodell approached a few other local business owners, asking if they would be able to help. Both Mondo and Juicy Cajun Seafood Main Street restaurants provided $ 60 gift certificates, the Police Benevolent Association gave out $ 200 in Stop & Shop gift cards, as well as a $ 50 Amazon gift card. A member of the public also donated a $ 100 grocery card.

Previously, Bodell had applied for a grant through the Shop With a Cop program, which did not take place this year due to COVID. This allowed her to purchase another $ 100 Target gift card so the girl could go shopping. “Not bad to throw it together,” he said.

While he helped facilitate the process, Bodell emphasizes that the effort was entirely community-based. “Without the people who donated toys, without the local restaurants – who themselves suffered – gift certificates, we couldn’t have done it.”

Under these circumstances, it was difficult for Bodell to enter a small business on a philanthropic mission, knowing that the industry is under immense pressure: “having received a heavy blow this year because of COVID” , did he declare.

Police have been involved in several different toy drives this season, including a stuff-a-cruiser event hosted by the Middlesex United Way Young Leaders Society.

Middletown Recreation and Community Services was the recipient of 21/2 vans full of children’s gifts, such as dolls and board games, through the Holiday Gift Collection in the Lobby of the Police Station at 222 Main Street. In this 69th year of the Bernie O’Rourke Toy Drive, 275 children were served, said Recreation Supervisor / Inclusion Specialist Karen Nocera.

The late O’Rourke, who died in 1986 at age 67, was the city’s longtime director of parks and recreation. “He went to his friends and said, ‘I need toys.’ He threw everything in the back of his car, going to neighbors or people he knew “who were in need,” Nocera said.

The most children served by the O’Rourke program in a year was 530, she said. “It has changed enormously. We rely on people like Jay. What I really love about our motivation is that the people of Middletown donate to the families of Middletown. “

From the beginning of November, people could register for the program through the recreation office. The last donation and pickup was on Tuesday, Nocera said.

“I do 150 squats a day,” she said, joking about the amount of manual labor required for the effort. Toys are set up in the cafeteria, and staff walk around and choose items for boys and girls, such as Legos, paint kits, and craft kits.

In total, Nocera received 111 toy donations and $ 4,500 in cash to fund the effort.

Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, The Nutrition Spot also supported staff at Middlesex Health by similar efforts.

Gyngell’s shop focuses on nourishing the whole body, she said. “It’s something Middletown needs. We have a lot of places that have comfort food, but we don’t have a lot of healthy outlets either. People need something they can. consume for their body, but also something for their mental well-being.

The owner took one of her employees to be part of the family donations. She gave the mother a gift certificate for The Spot. “I got to meet her and see the kids,” Gyngell said.

Later that evening, Bodell sent Gyngell pictures of the children opening the presents. “Their faces were priceless. It’s so heartwarming, ”Gyngell said.

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