PLAINFIELD — The holidays are the season of giving, and the staff at the Plainfield Correctional Facility knows all about that.
The facility has been collecting toys for less fortunate children with the Toys for Hendricks County Kids program for more than a decade.
In addition, each year, employee George Shepherd and former officer Harvey Pedro play Santa at various schools.
”This is one of the highlights of the year, simply because of the larger number of kids that we see at the same time,” said Shepherd, who has been playing Santa for the program for seven or eight years. “The concept, that some of these kids are getting gifts that they might otherwise not be able to receive, is really nice.”
For Shepherd, going to the different classrooms and meeting the children is part of the enjoyment.
”With most elementary schools, the principal drags me around from one room to another,” he said. “They usually pick out at least the special ed and kindergarten, and first-graders. If there is room, we go to more. There’s been times that they have ran me through the whole school.”
However, he said, meeting the students can also be quite emotional.
”It’s just so touching,” Shepherd said. “In the special ed classrooms, even the autistic children respond. They will back up to you after a few minutes, then get comfortable with you after a few more minutes, and turn around and give you a hug. That’s quite a thrill.”
Shepherd likes to look the part as best he can. He trims his beard for the first couple of months of the year, before beginning to grow it back out in May or June.
Many of the employees at the facility contribute to the program as well.
”The employees go out of their way to make sure that the gifts that they get are appropriate and nice gifts,” Shepherd said. “We’ve had years where we have givenbicycles and things like that.”
Though Shepherd and Pedro are the faces of the program in the schools, Cathie Ardelean is doing a great deal of work behind the scenes, as the program’s coordinator.
”It’s just a good feeling to know that there are going to be a lot of kids that are going to get something unexpected for Christmas,” Ardelean said. “It’s a good feeling.”
She said the facility begins in September or October, by sending letters to the schools and collecting names. After getting the names, they hang gift tags on a tree. Staff at the center then pull names from the tree and provide gifts for that student. For names that are not taken, the facility has a fund that allows them to buy gifts.
”It’s fun to go out and get in the crowd with everybody at the stores and do all of this shopping for kids,”Ardelean said.
Monetary donations for the program may be sent to First National Bank, 1627 E. U.S. 40, Clayton, IN 46118.