The interview question gave Rankin Police Chief Ryan Wooten pause: How would he describe how he and other Rankin officers feel when they distribute Christmas toys to children in need?
“I don't know how to describe it without sounding sappy,” he said. “It’s a feeling beyond joy and happiness, It’s a feeling of fulfillment that we’re using our positions as police officers to do something any decent American would do for someone who needs it.
“It’s God’s work. We’re using our position to help our fellow man and woman and make the world better.”
Indeed. This is the eighth year the borough police department has teamed up with the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots campaign. And for all of Chief Wooten’s 15 years leading the department, its 10 officers have distributed toys, food, and clothing to those in need among the 2,500 residents in his 1.5-square-mile borough.
“We work in an area that has three low-income housing communities and the saddest thing for a police officer in my eyes are kids without toys for Christmas,” Chief Wooten said. “We see a lot of stuff -- homicides, dead bodies, victims of violent crimes and all of that is in the same category as kids without toys for Christmas or food on the table.”
The Marines depend upon businesses, organizations and individuals throughout the country to pull off the toy drive. So, too, do Rankin police. They depend upon businesses, organizations and individuals in Rankin and Swissvale to make monetary, clothing, toys and food gift-card donations to augment the presents the officers distribute from the Toys for Tots campaign.
Most of the donations will be distributed in the borough building during the community’s Light Up Night on Dec. 11.
“And they’ll get their pictures taken with Santa and we’ll have hot chocolate and cookies for them, so they’ll get hyped up on sugar and then we’ll send them home with their parents,” Chief Wooten said with a hearty laugh.
Additionally, the department annually picks two families in need that don’t participate in the program, either through pride or for whatever reason.
“Our police officers will personally make sure they have a great Christmas, regardless. We’ll buy them Christmas trees, decorations, we have donated gift cards from the Giant Eagle in Braddock Hills for food and we’ll make sure each child in the families gets three or four toys.
“We’ll go to their homes and tell them ‘You have no choice. We’re the police. Have a great Christmas.’”
That joy and happiness, that sense of fulfillment in doing good for those in need that Chief Wooten discussed earlier came through loud and clear over the phone.
Chief Wooten’s department is the kind of organization that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund, in conjunction with the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program, strives to help.
To donate, send your tax-deductible contribution to Post-Gazette Goodfellows, Box 590, Pittsburgh, PA 15230 or donate online. By tradition, the Post-Gazette acknowledges every contribution, no matter the size, in the newspaper.