Convoy, Cops, and Compassion Help Change Lives
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But what many may not know, is that Convoy of Hope is now also helping police officers do their jobs more effectively. Convoy’s partnership has literally helped turn escalating situations into sensible communication and has shined a refreshing light on officers.
Springfield (Missouri) Police Lt. Dave Meyer, who retired at the end of March, clearly remembers the day that his wife, Cheri, brought his attention to what another police department was doing to meet needs in its community using something called a Patrol Pack.
As Meyer, a graduate of Evangel University, soon learned, there wasn’t anything complicated about the pack – it was simply a durable bag filled with ready-to-eat food and beverage items.
“I initially thought that they were a great way for officers to help those who are homeless and hungry have something to eat,” Meyer says. “It was also a kind way to help move people with signs asking for food from street corners.”
Having worked with Convoy of Hope to head up security for multiple local Convoy events over his nearly 25 years of service, Meyer had become friends with Hal Donaldson, Convoy’s president and co-founder. When he mentioned the idea of Convoy helping provide Patrol Packs to the Springfield Police Department, Donaldson quickly agreed, and the program launched in 2021.
“This was a way to empower officers to show tangible compassion,” explains Ethan Forhetz, national spokesperson for Convoy of Hope. “No one in our society sees more hurting people on a daily basis than our law enforcement community. Just like Convoy of Hope prioritizes empowering the local church, we also want to empower our law enforcement officers to be able to meet the needs of people.”
Each strap-handled canvas bag contains enough food items to provide two meals for a family of two to four people. Forhetz says that contents vary, but items are selected with the forethought that homeless people need ready-to-eat items that don’t require refrigeration and when canned items are included, a can opener is added to the bag.
“This allows the officer to be a real help to people in need and truly help meet the needs of people with whom they interact in the community where they serve,” Forhetz states. “It also takes the pressure off officers who, many times, spend their own money to purchase food for people who need help. We want to free up officers to offer kindness in a very tangible way.”
MORE THAN HUNGER
Meyer says that officers come across people in need all the time.
“It’s not just the homeless guy on the corner with a sign,” he says. “We regularly go into homes where there are families with kids who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Hunger, however, can lead to poor or desperate choices. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, hangry is defined as: “becoming angry because you are feeling hungry.” And for most people, it probably doesn’t take too much self-reflection to recall how patience can wear thin and filters can start evaporating when hunger becomes an issue.
Although Meyer’s original idea was for officers to help the homeless and destitute have food to eat, what has resulted is that officers, who participate voluntarily in the Patrol Pack program, are finding food to be a real key in de-escalating certain situations — especially when there’s potential for people being hangry.
Sgt. Tony D’Andrea of the Springfield Police Department recalls how a man had fought a fire marshal and was placed under arrest, but had become combative and refused to get up.
“He yells, ‘I just wanted to eat my (expletive) oatmeal!’” D’Andrea recalls. “I asked him if he was hungry — he said he was (expletive) starving, so I pulled two granola bars out of my Patrol Pack and told him if he cooperated with the officers, I’d give him the bars — he complied.”
“Essentially, the Patrol Packs are another tool to build relationship with people to get our goal accomplished, which is solving problems,” says Sgt. Michael Ramsey. “If we can create a relationship with a person and get our mission accomplished without taking that person to jail or fighting that person, I believe we should try out best to do that.”
D’Andrea adds that since the Patrol Pack program was started, he’s started asking people who are agitated, violent, etc. if they are hungry.
“It takes them off guard and usually I get an affirmative response,” D’Andrea says. “I’ve gained a lot of cooperation, which has lessened uses of force several times just by offering the food. It also puts the police in a positive light when they aren’t expecting that response from us.”
Forhetz says he was told of a single mother who was caught stealing food to provide for her children.
“Police were called to the store and were able to provide her with Patrol Packs,” Forhetz says. “The officer kept in contact with the woman following the incident and provided additional Patrol Packs. She has since gotten a job and has repeatedly expressed thanks to the officer for helping her during a time of need. That's what it's about — the ability to affect a person's life in a positive way and show the love of Jesus.”
CONVOY OPEN TO EXPANSION
Since the start of the program in the area, which includes the Springfield Police Department, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, and the neighboring Republic Police Department, Convoy has supplied 650 Patrol Packs, and restock them as needed.
“Kindness is a main theme of Convoy of Hope, and we work every day to meet the needs of hurting people,” Forhetz states. “We've found that by equipping officers to offer this help . . . they can become seen more as an advocate, rather than an adversary. Patrol Packs are a great investment in our communities.”
Outside of Missouri, Patrol Packs have caught on in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, after a donor became aware of what Springfield Police were doing and wanted to see it replicated in his home area.
Meyer says hearing that makes him feel ever better about the Patrol Packs, a program that is now run by D’Andrea and Ramsey since his retirement.
“Bigger the city, bigger the need,” he says matter-of-factly. “But it is kind of cool that they started doing Patrol Packs out there (in Nevada).”
Forhetz encourages other donors, churches, and communities to consider Patrol Packs to assist their local officers.
“We would love to partner with other police departments and expand the Patrol Packs to other areas,” Forhetz says. “We're always open to donors/churches coming to us from certain areas, looking for ways to bless local law enforcement where they live. We have found it cost effective to supply the bags (empty) to other communities/churches and then allow them to partner with their local precincts, discuss their specific needs/requests, and fill the bags.”
*To read more of Dave Meyer's story, click here.