he holiday season is a good time to help the less fortunate. But for local government leaders, it’s also an opportunity to raise some social capital with residents by nurturing relationships.
Police Lt. Dana Griffin takes part in Shop with a Cop. Credit/City of North Myrtle Beach
That takes place regularly in the City of North Myrtle Beach. Each year in December, the city’s public safety department holds its Shop with a Cop program for underprivileged children.
"The children enjoy a free lunch at a nice restaurant with public safety officers and volunteers, and each child is also given a $100 Wal-Mart gift card to purchase gifts and some essential items, such as winter coats," said Patrick Dowling, the city’s public information officer. Public safety personnel and volunteers accompany the children on their shopping trip.
Guidance counselors at North Myrtle Beach-area primary, elementary and intermediate schools select children for the program. The city’s goal is to involve 100 or more children from low-income families each year.
Dowling said the program allows children in need to share in some holiday joy and also helps the city establish healthy relationships between kids and their families and the city’s public safety personnel. Cities and towns across the country have tried to instill trust and create positive associations early on between residents and authorities, in the hopes of preventing confrontations years later.
"As the kids grow up, they and their parents and siblings come to see public safety personnel as being helpful, friendly and a positive community resource," said Dowling. "Truth be told, our public safety personnel probably have as much fun as the kids."
A large part of the funding for the Shop with a Cop program comes from the city’s annual Shop with a Cop Golf Tournament, which is held on golf courses at Barefoot Resort & Golf in North Myrtle Beach. The tournament sells out annually.
In the Town of Seabrook Island, some extra good will is scheduled on the December calendar.
The Town of Seabrook Island opens up town hall in early December for a Christmas drop-in. It’s a catered event for all residents, drawing about 200 each year, and an opportunity to collect toys for less fortunate children. It’s also a chance for the residents to socialize and get to know the town’s three full-time employees, its mayor and town council, said Faye Allbritton, clerk/treasurer of Seabrook Island.
In the nearly 2,200-population Town of Ware Shoals, a game of basketball brings out residents’ generosity.
For at least the last nine years, police and fire officials take on the Ware Shoals High School basketball team for an annual event that encourages attendees to bring toys or donations for low-income members of the community. The game is traditionally held just before Thanksgiving, said Town Administrator Heather Fields. And there’s another tradition, though perhaps not planned—a victory by the students’ team.
"Our players are older," she said with a laugh.