Sheriff’s deputies collect, distribute backpacks for children in need

DET. J.D. CALLOWAY PHOTO
Sun City Center Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry stands beside more than 80 backpacks stored in the computer room for teh annual Dist. IV giveaway at the Wimauma Boys & Girls Club at Bethune Park.

By LOIS KINDLE

Eighty kids finishing up summer camp at the Wimauma Boys & Girls Club are ready for school, thanks to the efforts of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies in Dist. IV. For the second year running, they collected and distributed backpacks filled with school supplies donated by deputies and the United Methodist Church of Sun City Center. The deputies also donated a large box of school supplies to Ruskin Elementary School.

Like last year, many of the backpacks the kids received were supplied by members of the CrossFit Rikr gym owned by Det. Joey Kaleikini at 6520 U.S. 301 S., Riverview.

“Any time there’s a good community event we can get behind, I let our members know and they always come through,” he said. “It’s our way of giving back and taking part in the community.”

Thanks to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, elementary-school children from low-income families in the Ruskin-Wimauma area will head off to class in style, after happily selecting the backpack they liked. Deputies also gave every child who wanted one a pick of donated Beanie Babies, and the club served snacks of donuts and juice.

It was a perfect opportunity for kids from tough neighborhoods to see a different side of law enforcement.

Looking through their backpacks, some excitedly showed their “finds” to the nearest deputy on hand. Others simply wanted to chat.

“Many of these kids view police with suspicion, so our interacting with them (like this) helps them see law enforcement in a new light,” said Maj. Rob Bullara, Dist. IV commander. “It gives them an entirely different perspective.”

Ronneka “Ronnie” Peacock, the club’s director and a former high school teacher, smiled broadly throughout the event and kept things moving smoothly.

“We absolutely appreciate everything the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office does for our kids,” she said. “Without this event, the families of many of these children would find it difficult to buy the back-to-school supplies they need.”

The sheriff’s office sponsors the Wimauma Boys & Girls Club at Bethune Park and four other Boys & Girls Club locations in Hillsborough County in Tampa, Dover, Town ‘n Country and the Clair Mel City/Palm River area.

The Dist. IV Command helps the Bethune Park club out whenever it needs something, Bullara said.

“All they have to do is contact us.”

Bullara added his deputies participated in the club’s end-of-school-year party last May, and a deputy from Crime Prevention was assigned to the club from opening to closing on weekdays throughout the summer.

Now that the new school year is starting, Sun City Center Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry is responsible for stopping in several times a week during after-school hours or as needed.

“The sheriff views the money that we’re investing up-front in these kids will pay off in the long run,” Bullara said. “His philosophy is for us to build positive relationships with them while they’re young.”

The Wimauma Boys & Girls Club at Bethune Park’s offers a low cost, after-school program in a safe environment for children in need. It includes homework and tutoring; computer etiquette and safe usage; athletic activities and healthy lifestyle training; arts, crafts and games; and drug prevention.

The club is at 5809 Edina Street, Wimauma. For more information, to volunteer or make a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit organization, email rpeacock@bcgtampa.org or call 813-938-1839.

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