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Delivering Christmas joy
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PAOLA — When 4-year-old Zaydin Reynolds heard the sound of a fire truck pulling up in front of his Paola home on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 19, he quickly ran to the window.

As soon as he saw Santa Claus hop off and start walking toward his house, Zaydin threw on his jacket and darted out the door and down the front steps.

There’s no time for shoes in such situations.

Beating his siblings was crucial, as Zaydin wanted to be the first to give the big man in red a hug.

Scampering barefoot through his front yard, Zaydin excitedly leapt into Santa’s arms before Kris Kringle could even say “Merry Christmas.”

“He’s been looking forward to this all day,” his mother said. “Santa is his favorite person.”

Zaydin was just one of the many children in Miami County whose Christmas wishes came true Saturday thanks to the effort of Santa Claus and volunteers with the Cops for Tots program at the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.

This is the 25th year for the program, which began in 1995 as a tribute, dedicated to the memory of Sheriff Ken Davis. Every year, community members adopt children in need also known as “angels” from an angel tree at the sheriff’s office and then buy Christmas gifts for them. Volunteers help wrap and organize the gifts, and they are delivered a few days before Christmas with help from sheriff’s office deputies and local firefighters.

Volunteers bundled up and battled an icy wind Saturday morning as they packed gift bags onto fire trucks and sorted grocery bags at a storage facility in the Paola Industrial Park.

Osawatomie firefighters took gifts and groceries to distribute in their community, while firefighters and sheriff’s deputies canvassed the Paola area. Some items were also taken to Louisburg.

Lead organizer Barb Fisher said there were 383 angels this year, which is about 10 more than last year. Gifts were packaged together for each household, and Fisher said there were 72 stops in Osawatomie, about 30 less in Paola and only four in Louisburg.

Paola firefighters made Saturday’s delivery fun by wearing Santa hats and activating the truck’s lights and sirens as they pulled up to homes. Third-generation firefighter Jake Hinman even wore a Christmas sweater for the special occasion.

Santa Claus knocked on the doors and greeted children, and other volunteers handed Price Chopper grocery bags to grateful parents.

In addition to the Christmas gift deliveries, Cops for Tots helps local children and families throughout the year when assistance is needed, and the program also helps stock local food pantries.

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Paola students shop for Christmas presents with police officers
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PAOLA — Ten students were matched with members of the Paola Police Department for a Christmas shopping spree through a grant from Walmart.

The second annual Shop with a Cop program offered 10 second- through fifth-grade students from the Paola school district the chance to go shopping for loved ones for Christmas on Friday, Dec. 18. Through a Walmart grant for $1,000, each student had $100 to spend on gifts for their family.

Each student, list in hand, was paired with at least one member of the Paola Police Department as they went from aisle to aisle looking for that perfect present for their sibling, their mom, their dad and even their grandparents.

There was more than a little bit of Christmas magic in the air.

“Seeing their faces light up was my favorite part,” Paola Police Officer Yessenia Rizo said. “You could see them smiling through the masks. It was great.”

Not only was it an opportunity for the children to shop for Christmas presents, but also a way to see the police offers who protect and serve them as one of their friends in the community.

“They get to see a little bit more of the goofy side of us,” she said. “We get to level with them one-on-one and help them shop for their loved ones.”

Walmart was proud to help sponsor the event this year, assistant manager Karen Blanck said. The program was started by the Paola Police Department in 2019, and they contacted Walmart about joining the effort this year.

The whole experience was a moving one, not only for the children, but for everyone in the store, Blanck said.

“It is very exciting to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they go from aisle to aisle looking for that special gift from them to their sibling or parent,” Blanck said. “Most children don’t get the opportunity to buy a gift themselves for a family member. This will be something personal from them to their loved one.

“The children are obviously very comfortable shopping (with the officers),” Blanck said “You can see the respect and admiration in their eyes as they interact with the officers. The customers and associates love the excitement that comes from the children as they are shopping and then when they go up to the registers to pay for their special chosen gifts.”

Officer Rizo said the schools were great to work with.

“We were able to get lists from the kids so the officers knew what they were looking for when we got out there,” she said. “Three kids had two officers and the rest got one,” she said. “We had a few extra officers. We had some on duty still, so if they got called, we had an officer with them.”

Blanck has volunteered with the Cops for Tots program for many years.

“This is a whole different view, with Cops for Tots we work hard all year long on planning and collecting money to buy the gifts for the kids,” she said. “But with working in retail I’ve never been able to help deliver the gifts to see the kids’ eyes light up as Santa delivers the gifts.

“With the Shop with a Cop, it’s all about the view through a child’s eyes,” Blanck said. “The first-time shopping without a parent or relative, shopping with a Cop, who is not only there to guide them through the store to the items they get to choose, but to feel safe and protected by the officers. The children will remember this experience forever, they will know that it is good and to be around an officer and not like what some portray on TV to be unsafe and violent.”

Being part of the Shop with a Cop program was a great way for Walmart to say thank you to our community and the police who protect us, Blanck said.

“We at Walmart always support our officers, just as they are here to support us throughout the year,” she said. “Paola has some of the best officers who are active in helping our children with this program and other programs throughout the year. “

Students and the officers went to the police department following their shopping adventure to watch The Grinch while volunteers, police officers and even some of the children helped wrap the presents.

“We have more volunteers in route to help with wrapping the presents so they will be ready for Christmas,” Rizo said. “We keep it on the down low with the planning part of it. The most rewarding part of it is seeing the kids’ faces.”

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More than 140 people go to free testing site on first day
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PAOLA — More than 140 Miami County residents passed through the free COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot at the Paola Adult Education Center on Friday, Dec. 18 — nearly triple the anticipated daily average.

The site opened Friday at the center, which is located at 1710 Industrial Park Drive, as part of a statewide initiative to ramp up testing. The free saliva tests will be available for adults and children — no symptoms required — through the end of December, according to the Miami County Health Department.

Testing at the Paola site is offered from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Appointments for a test at the Paola site can be made online at https://www.gogettested.com/kansas. Appointments aren’t required, but encouraged. The site will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Mark Whelan, emergency management coordinator with the Miami County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday, Dec. 21, that 144 people were tested Friday and 62 more tests were conducted on Saturday, bringing the initial two-day total to more than 200 tests.

“They were expecting around 50 or so per day,” Whelan said.

As of 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, Whelan said more than 100 people had already been tested that day.

The site is being offered in collaboration with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), Miami County Emergency Management and Miami County Health Department.

The COVID-19 Unified Testing Strategy for Kansas coordinated initiative comes at a time when cases continue to mount in the county and across the state.

Miami County had 1,566 cases as of Monday, according to KDHE.

The county health department issues a COVID-19 update each Wednesday. Whelan, who delivered the Dec. 16 report at the County Commission meeting, said Miami County had 175 active COVID-19 cases at that time, and had recorded two more deaths — both at long-term care facilities. Five of the COVID-19 deaths, about half of the county’s total, have been attributed to three clusters at long-term care facilities.

Whelan said numbers compiled from 31 hospitals in the Kansas City metro area and northeast region of the state show 34 percent of intensive care unit beds are available. Whelan’s report indicates those 31 hospitals combined have 477 staffed ICU beds, and 313 were in use as of Wednesday. Of those 313 beds, 112 are COVID-19 patients. Ventilator availability was 71 percent.

As of Monday, Dec. 21, Kansas had 204,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 105 counties that have resulted in 6,267 hospitalizations and 2,448 deaths, according to KDHE. There were 4,174 cases, 92 hospitalizations and 107 deaths reported since Friday, Dec. 18, according to KDHE.

More than 319,000 Americans and 1.7 million people have died worldwide during the global pandemic.

The overall goal of the state’s new initiative is to double the amount of testing by the end of 2020.

Whelan said in an email the tests are free and no insurance or official ID is required for the free testing at the adult education center.

A person’s name and phone number or email is required for notification purposes if the test comes back positive, according to emergency management.

An authorization and consent form will need to be signed.

Elizabeth Trigg, longtime director of the Osawatomie Library, will be leaving at the end of December.