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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane Police Department brings Christmas cheer with adopt a family program

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 21, 2020

Anita Bryant, 57, left, cries beside police officer Jennifer DeRuwe, center, and Betsy Williams, community manager at Richard Allen Court apartments, as officers and Les Schwab employees bring in gifts, food and household items Monday at Bryant’s Spokane apartment.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Anita Bryant, 57, left, cries beside police officer Jennifer DeRuwe, center, and Betsy Williams, community manager at Richard Allen Court apartments, as officers and Les Schwab employees bring in gifts, food and household items Monday at Bryant’s Spokane apartment. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

When a handful of police cars pulled into the Richard Allen Court Apartments, Monday afternoon, resident Anita Bryant was a bit worried that something might be wrong.

Then officers piled out of their cars carrying brightly wrapped presents right up to Bryant’s front door.

“When I saw everyone in the parking lot, I was just overwhelmed,” Bryant said through tears.

Bryant’s family was one of 17 selected by the Spokane Police Department’s adopt-a-family program. Normally, Officer Jennifer DeRuwe does youth and community outreach for the Spokane Police Department but at Christmas she turns into one of Santa’s elves.

The adopt-a-family program started about five years ago, DeRuwe said. The police department selects families in need, and with the help of community partners, delivers essentials like food, cleaning supplies and clothes along with a few special Christmas gifts.

“We as police officers see firsthand families in need, and oftentimes families that don’t access all the resources that are out there for whatever reason,” DeRuwe said.

For the last two years, Les Schwab has donated monetarily and helped deliver gifts.

“Anytime we can spread some cheer – especially this year – to some families and put some smiles on some faces, I’m definitely excited,” said Brad Horst, manager at Spokane Les Schwab on Alki.

Bryant lives with her daughter and granddaughter in the Richard Allen Court Apartments, a low-income housing apartment complex. They have lived at Richard Allen for about five years, Bryant said.

A few weeks ago, Bryant filled out a wish list for Christmas for her granddaughter, Arionna, 10. She was told to fill the whole list out and then Spokane police would see what needs they could meet.

When DeRuwe and her fellow officers arrived Monday, Bryant was shocked to see everything she needed and more, including special Christmas gifts for Arionna.

“We do the best that we can and we always do fine,” Bryant said. “I’ve never just had anything like this. I’m 57 years old and, I don’t know, I just kind of wasn’t raised to ask for anything.

“You make do with what you have. We did still get a couple things for her ourselves but nothing like this.”

Community manager at Richard Allen Court, Betsy Williams, said the gifts could not have gone to a more deserving family. Bryant not only takes care of her daughter and granddaughter, but her aging mother as well.

“Things like this just brings hope to their lives,” Williams said. “Even though this is low-income housing it’s housing, it’s a home it’s a community and that community really makes a difference.”

Williams said Bryant is one of their “model community members” who always goes out of her way to help others.

“We’re so thankful to have her around here,” she said.

Brianna Bates met DeRuwe when she was just 16 years old at a Youth Police Initiative program.

The Youth Police Initiative is a five-day program for high school students and police officers to break down barriers and connect with each other.

“It really is about building those bridges, creating a safe place so that once we finished a program and they graduate, when we see them out on the street, we have a different relationship with them,” DeRuwe said. “We have one of trust, one of honesty. And so the end game for the police department is now we have people out there in the community they got to know us in a different level, not in a time of crisis.”

Bates was in one of the first police initiative classes in 2014. Bates’ father had multiple run-ins with the justice system when she was a child.

“Growing up, cops were bad because of the way my dad was and his lifestyle,” Bates said. “So we weren’t allowed to befriend them or they were a threat to us.”

All that changed after Bates completed the program. About a year later, at 16, Bates gave birth to her son, Taylor.

“Jen (DeRuwe) and Tracy (Meidl) reached out and really stuck with me through that,” Bates said. “Since then, I completely changed my boys and the way that their outlook is.”

DeRuwe said it has been special to watch Bates’ family grow.

“We’ve just maintained that relationship,” DeRuwe said. “She comes from families that were familiar with the criminal justice system, have not always made good choices. And so for this young lady, she had all the reason not to be successful.

“She could have gone in a million different directions. And she didn’t.”

Now Bates is married and recently had her third son, Ryder, about five months ago. Bates’ husband lost his job due to the pandemic so Christmas could have been a struggle this year, Bates said.

But DeRuwe reached out and made sure they had everything they needed.

As the police officer set stacks of wrapped presents on the Bates’ front porch, 6-year-old Taylor exclaimed, “Mom, look, can I just open one present?” as Bates and DeRuwe laughed and hugged.

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