COVINGTON, Ga. — Santa and a longtime “family” member helped Covington Police Department show some students that officers do not only show up when bad things happen.
The department hosted its third annual Operation Candy Cane today, Dec. 16. Police officers and administrators helped give out hundreds of candy canes to students as part of the event at Newton County Theme School.
Organizer Sgt. Victor Partee said he worked with school leaders to schedule it for Dec. 16 so it could coincide with the school’s “Polar Express Day” theme.
Students were allowed to wear pajamas, just as the lead character did in the Chris Van Allsburg book on which the 2004 animated movie was adapted.
Main Street Trolleys donated its trolley to the event for tours. Tony Cagle, who also performs as “Santa” in the trolley company’s “South Pole Express” play, donated his time to greet the children after they lined up in the school’s gym.
Robert Hill, who plays the part of “Conductor” in the same play, led students in Christmas songs as he helped pass out candy canes.
Anita Turner, widow of longtime assistant police chief Almond Turner, passed out the first candy cane to the students and continued to assist despite the cold wind and rain blowing through a school breezeway.
For the second consecutive year, organizers dedicated the event to the memory of Almond Turner, who died in November 2019.
Mrs. Turner said she “had no problem” with being part of the event.
“I feel like they’re still part of my family,” she said.
Officers later presented Mrs. Turner with a custom-made blue Santa hat donated by LRC Promotions with her husband’s badge number emblazoned on it.
Almond Turner, who also was a county school board member, served 45 years with the department before his 2016 retirement.
Partee said he originated the idea of making Operation Candy Cane an annual event after first organizing it in 2018 at South Salem Elementary School.
He said he and another officer invited seven South Salem students to a “Shop With a Cop” program — which led to officers organizing a program for the entire school.
He said Operation Candy Cane always sought to change the image students may have of police when their first interaction with officers may come during an incident involving a friend or family member.
“It’s why we started this,” Partee said.
“We want the students to know that police officers are approachable and friendly and there to assist,” he said in a county school system press release.
“By visiting them to hand out candy and spend time with them at school, we hope to make a positive first impression with these students so if they should need us in the future they aren’t frightened.”
School Principal Ashante Everett said her students and staff “had a fantastic time.”
“This is the second year our local police officers have brought Operation Candy Cane to our school and we hope they will continue the tradition for many years to come!” she said in the release.
Partee said Walmart donated 2,500 candy canes to the event, while officers donated time on their days off.
“The whole community came together to help,” he said.
Partee said he also was to take Operation Candy Cane to Peachtree Academy in Covington, and the preschool program at Covington First United Methodist Church Thursday.