BY MEGHANN M. CUNIFF
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Chris Colson and Jim Campbell are used to seeing poverty. As senior probation and parole officers for Idaho, theyre used to encountering dirty homes and children crying for their parents. And theyre used to shoving their emotions aside to concentrate on their jobs, which often involves taking an adult in the home to jail.
But something about the scene at a trailer park in Garden City last week touched the men, who have been looking forward to spending the holidays with their own families.
They had stopped by to check on a man under their watch, but found only his wife and her two daughters. A repeat felony DUI offender, he had been jailed in Canyon County on another drunken-driving charge.
His wife kept the place clean, but she had little to give her children and was preparing for an extended hospital stay for her 3-year-old to undergo heart surgery. The wife has colon cancer and her mother is dying of cancer.
A bare Christmas tree served as the only reminder of the holiday. The woman cried when Colson and Campbell asked how she was celebrating this year.
This was spur of the moment, Colson said. Two tough guys in a car with tears in their eyes wanting to do something.
So they did.
At first, they figured they would just stop by a department store and pick up a few toys for the kids. But word of the familys plight quickly spread through the parole and probation community.
Soon Colson and Campbell were fielding donations of toys, food and cash, and offers of free counseling and other help from local professionals. A store cashier donated a few dollars after Colson told her what he was doing. A clerk at a bank did the same with Campbell.
Law enforcement officers from agencies throughout the Treasure Valley pitched in, as did children of some officers. Toys for Tots, Easter Seals, Ballet Idaho and the Morrison Center also helped.
It kind of took on a life of its own, Campbell said. Our phones blew up all night long.
The men, family members and other Department of Correction employees delivered the gifts Monday and planned to give some to other families in similar situations.
And they dont want it to be a one-time thing. Campbell said hes hoping to create a donation program to regularly help families through the holiday season or provide a gift or two if dads in jail on a birthday.
The men said they want to make it clear that the family member in jail or facing possible jail because of probation violations wont get special treatment. But they also want to help the innocent family members who had nothing to do with the crime, but wind up suffering.
The woman who received the gifts didnt want her name publicized. Campbell and Colson emphasized that she never asked for anything and has always been polite and respectful.
She provided information on her utility and other bills to corrections officials, who will help pay them with the approximately $1,200 in cash that Campbell and Colson collected.
By paying those bills, they hope to give the family some stability as the daughter undergoes surgery in Salt Lake City after Christmas. The family also is bracing for the death of the womans mother, who wasnt expected to live past Thanksgiving.
SANTA REALLY LOVES YOU
Colsons and Campbells presence at the familys trailer, spurred only by their desire to bring gifts and do some good, also helped dispel the childrens fear of law enforcement.
The 3-year-old hates police, Campbell said. She says, They arrest daddy. We want to show her thats not what were all about.
The girl recognized Campbell and Colson when they walked into her home. She shyly stuck by her mother as Department of Correction officials filled the living room with food and gifts.
Thats daddys (probation officer), the woman told her. Yep, he was here the other night.
Campbell looked the girl in the eyes. Boy, you must have been a good girl, because Santa really loves you, Campbell said.
The girl beamed and gazed at the pile of presents in front of the once-bare Christmas tree.
Youve got an entire community who cares about you, Campbell told the girls mother.
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418