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Hanging with Heroes: local program brings Christmas to families in need

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By Mary Hinds

Sergeant James Richardson is looking forward to Christmas shopping—not just for kids but also with them. Each year, Richardson, along with a group of officers from the sheriff’s department and fire department push carts through Walmart and watch as children from LaRue County pick out clothes and toys for Christmas. From babies to teenagers, every participant loves getting Christmas gifts, but what do kids think of shopping with a police officer?

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“It’s all or nothing,” Richardson said of the kids’ reaction. “It’s either ‘this is the coolest thing ever’ or ‘please don’t take me to jail.’ I had a little girl last year that started out skeptical but by the end of the night, we were cool—I think it was me wearing a ridiculous Picachu hat that helped, but I’m not a hundred percent sure.”

Now in its third year, the Hangin with Heroes program provides clothing, toys and other necessities to needy children during the holiday season. The City of Hodgenville and the Hodgenville Police Department originally launched the program in 2015 as a way to serve underprivileged families, one child at a time.

“We wanted a way to give back to the community,” Richardson said, “There are a lot of agencies in the area that do ‘Shop With a Cop’—that name is trademarked so we called ours ‘Hangin with Heroes.’ We’re not as big as Elizabethtown, we’re not taking 50 or 60 kids shopping like they do, but if we can take five or ten, that’s five or ten kids that wouldn’t have had Christmas any other way.”

Run through the City of Hodgenville, the program partners with the social service organization Community Action to screen all applicants and children are anonymously referred by LaRue County Schools staff. The group raises funds through volunteered time and donations throughout the year; a recent booth at Lincoln Days raised $800 for the program by selling t-shirts and fidget spinners. This year, applications will be accepted November 1 through December 8.

“We go down to Walmart in Campbellsville and we shop until we drop,” Richardson said. “We give out $125 per kid: $100 for clothes—shoes, jackets, socks ,whatever they need—and $25 for a toy. We invite the parents to come with us and we’ve been blessed with some really good parents. The people we’ve helped have been really receptive, really appreciative and we have a blast.”

According to Richardson, Hangin’ with Heroes has doubled every year, from nine to about 20 last year, as more donations have allowed the program to accept more applicants of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers.

“Last year we took some high school kids with us,” he said. “We weren’t sure how that would work out but they were the most gracious, nicest kids you’ll ever meet in your life. We had two babies that we took because their siblings were getting stuff. We had the money in the budget so we went ahead and accepted the two little ones because they weren’t going to have anything either.”

In addition to helping families by providing presents, Richardson said the event also creates positive connections in the community.

“We have some kids who have seen the police before and it’s always been a negative experience so one of the other benefits of this is the kids having a positive experience with the cops,” Richardson said. “Everybody falls on hard times and it’s a small community; everybody knows everybody—anything we can do to help folks out we’re all about it.”

When asked what his favorite part of the program was, Richardson didn’t hesitate:

“The smiles on these little kids face over shoes and underwear,” Richardson said. “I can show you smiles that go for days over me buying them a onesie—I’ve never seen anything like it. You would think that the kids with the toys is what they’re in it for, but when you buy a kid a brand new jacket and they give you a hug and thank you? I mean, that’s why we do this. The worst part is the stories; some of them are heart breaking. But it’s always good to see that they understand we’re not always the bad guys. Most of the time we have to play the bad guys and that’s not who we are; it’s the job we have to do.”

For more information on donating to the program and upcoming fundraisers, contact Sergeant James Richardson at 270-358-3122 or visit Hodgenville Police Department or Hodgenville City Hall during business hours.