HOLDEN, Maine — Holding three gift bags with one hand and a pink and white teddy bear with the other, the police chief knocked Wednesday on the door of a trailer.
Ten-year-old Jazlynn Wells answered.
“Who are you? Is your mom here?” Greeley asked.
“Are you a policeman?” the child inquired.
“Why yes I am. I’m Chris Greeley,” he replied before being invited into the home by Cassie Wells, mother of Jazlynn, Kian, 3, and Rowyn, 3 months old.
Greeley handed a bag filled with age-appropriate gifts to the two younger children. They eagerly pulled out each item, smiling and thanking the police chief.
“This is more than we could have asked for and really amazing,” Cassie Wells said. “I want to say thank you to this community.”
In addition to the gifts and teddy bears, Greeley gave Wells $200 in cash to help with holiday expenses. It was one of several stops Greeley made handing out gifts and cash as part of his department’s 25 Days of Kindness program.
For five years, the police department has spent the days leading up to Christmas giving toys, groceries, gift cards and cash to community members. Greeley started the program after being named chief in 2015. He joined the agency in 2003 when Holden created its own department.
“I thought it would be a fun incentive for officers to do good deeds during the month of December that weren’t in their job descriptions,” he said. “It was a way to think outside the box a little.”
He urged officers to carry in groceries if they saw an elderly person struggling to carry them into their homes or to help a person shovel snow off steps or a driveway. Word got out and then people asked if they could donate to the department. Greeley had to call the attorney general’s office for advice and found out they could take donations as long as they did not keep them.
“We don’t keep anything. We regift everything,” he said. “This year, thousands of dollars are going back into the community.”
Exactly how much won’t be known until next year as donations keep coming in.
Apex Metals, a recycling firm in Holden, increased its donation this year because it has been such a challenging 12 months for people due to the continuing pandemic and its economic impact, owner Jared Jacobs said.
“We think it’s important for us to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s nice that the police department does its research to find families and people in town who need help.”
Greeley said he relies on officers, school officials, church pastors, managers in mobile home parks and subsidized housing complexes and others to alert the department about people in need. He also reaches out to businesses and their workers in Holden.
On Wednesday, he stopped off at the redemption center at Stomper’s Beverage near the Brewer city line. Greeley took in a bag of cans and bottles, was given $3, then pulled out a $100 bill out of his pocket as a tip for the workers to share, along with the $3.
The police also stopped off at Renaissance Dogs, the local dog day care center, to give the business a $300 cash donation. Greeley said that some people request that their donations go to animals. Owner Rebecca Henderson said she would use the money to buy pet toys and supplies to give to area animal shelters.
To Greeley’s surprise, support this year for 25 Days of Kindness came from Maine’s minor league hockey team in Portland. The teddy bears Greeley gave to the Wells children were retrieved Dec. 4 from the ice at the Cross Insurance Arena during a Maine Mariners game. Spectators tossed bears of all shapes and sizes onto the ice after the team scored its first and only goal.
Mariners’ management heard about the police department’s tradition of giving teddy bears each fall to second graders, according to spokesperson Michael Keeley. In November and December, the team collects toys for charity as part of its community outreach programs.
“Holden is pretty far from Portland but the Maine Mariners represent the whole state,” Keeley said. “Also, the chief is a big hockey fan.”
Keeley estimated that 1,500 stuffed bears were split between Toys for Tots and the Holden Police Department after the Dec. 4 game. Greeley said that his cruiser was chock full of stuffed toys as he headed north.
“I get a lot of credit for this because my big mouth is on the radio and my big, fat face is on TV, but it’s the community of Holden that makes this possible,” he said.