LAKE PLACID — Local police officers give books to children in times of crisis, but they do more than just improve the child’s spirits or love for reading.
“We identify people who have needs,” said Lake Placid Police Sgt. Eddie San Miguel.
In 2011, Carol Pollard of Highlands Electronics/Radio Shack in Lake Placid started collecting donations — cash or books — for R.E.A.C.H. a Child: Reading Enjoyment Affects Childhood Happiness.
The book-based program, originally from Wisconsin, gives books to children in traumatic situations, to take their minds off reality for a bit. It also spurs a love for reading, but that is not all it can do, Pollard said.
“I’m passionate (about it) because it’s so much more than a pack of books,” Pollard said. “It gives officers a chance to reach out.”
Police, fire or emergency medical personnel use the books to build good relationships with kids. San Miguel said giving a book or sitting down with a child to read, even briefly, builds a stronger bond than just a teddy bear or sticker. The child remembers and will come back to talk to officers again.
“Also, because they want another book,” added Police Chief James Fansler.
Officers willingly oblige, said San Miguel, who dropped by the Radio Shack Monday for another backpack. It connects them to children with immediate emergency needs.
“It helps us get clothes and (supplies) for needy kids,” San Miguel said.
In one case, arrested parents had three children alone in a home with empty cupboards, Pollard said. One 7-year-old girl slept on a bare mattress on the floor. Community donations to Pollard’s local R.E.A.C.H. program brought in books to calm them, but also food and bedsheets and blankets for the girl.
San Miguel said they had to show her how to make her bed. “She didn’t know how to have her own stuff,” San Miguel said. “Everything was geared toward everyone (sharing).”
Pollard said San Miguel bought the girl a pillow, so kids at school wouldn’t laugh at her hair from sleeping without one. “When he left the house, she was laying on her bed, reading her books,” Pollard said.
Lake Placid police have been involved since Phil Williams was chief, Pollard said. Through the program, police have helped other emergency cases, such as a domestic violence victim in a parking lot, to a grandmother broken down on State Road 70 with children in the car and only $7 in her wallet.
“We pay for rooms for people who are stranded,” San Miguel said.
It all starts with books, Pollard said. In 2012, a book drive brought in 2,000 books. Civic clubs, like Rotary, have given. A recent anonymous donor gave enough for her to order 100 books from Scholastic, for which she’s incredibly thankful.
“At one time, we didn’t know if we would have enough books,” Fansler said. “It seems the basket of fishes keeps filling up.”
The program has opened doors for youth and young adults, Pollard said. Officers keep “Save Me From Myself,” a Christian autobiography of Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, who beat addiction through faith. Pollard said San Miguel has had the occasion, at 2 a.m., to reach out to a young addict with that book.
“It gives hope. Many youth don’t have hope,” said Pollard, adding that’s the program’s goal. “It’s so much more than a backpack.”