NAS Patuxent River Police Officer Zachery Farrell was once again filling a police car with school supplies during another “Stuff a Cruiser” event in front of the Navy Exchange Aug. 6.
Farrell started his first cruiser effort a few years back by collecting toys for less fortunate kids at the holidays.
“We don’t get to do many things for the community and I wanted to do something, so I asked if I could set up a Stuff a Cruiser event, explained how it would work and what I’d do, and it was approved,” said Farrell, who served onboard Pax River as a master-at-arms from 2014-2017 before separating from the Navy and accepting a job as a civilian Naval District Washington police officer on base. “I got together with the county organizer of Toys for Tots, met with people from the Exchange, and we set a date. I had some military volunteers help me and we parked out in front of the NEX. We played Christmas music on the car radio, handed out candy canes and asked people to donate toys.”
Participation was overwhelming and Farrell managed to stuff two cruisers with toys. He continued from there, working next with MWR by participating in their annual Halloween Trunk or Treat celebration.
“We set up a police car, decorated it, and handed out candy and other stuff like Halloween safety tips and bullying information to the kids who came by,” Farrell said. “We got Scruff McGruff [the Crime Dog] involved too and it was just something we ended up enjoying doing.”
Wanting to continue working for the community throughout the year, Farrell applied his initial toys idea to back-to-school supplies.
“There are plenty of kids in the county who come from lower income families who sometimes have a hard time buying the supplies they need,” Farrell noted. “I remember my mom had a hard time buying our school supplies when I was a kid and I figured this was something I could do to help out others. I started it three years ago and we collected even more school supplies than toys.”
COVID-19 cancelled last year’s effort, but Farrell and his fellow volunteers returned this year and once again NEX patrons did not disappoint. They generously filled the police vehicle back to front.
“The only seat open was the driver’s seat,” Farrell added. “I get shopping lists from the school district of what supplies are needed and people donate everything from pencils, pens, glue sticks and notebooks to book bags and lunch boxes; four people even donated nice headphones, which was on the list for one of the higher grades. If people just donate a pack of pens, I’m ecstatic with that, but sometimes someone will walk out of the NEX with a large shopping bag full of stuff and say ‘here you go.’”
After the donations were turned over, Farrell received a letter of appreciation from Kelly Hall, chief of Equity, Engagement and Early Access, thanking him on behalf of St. Mary’s County Public Schools and explaining that the donations received from Pax River support children at Title I schools and other schools where there is demonstrated need. The donated supplies are being shared with the Department of Student Services, the Pupil Personnel Workers, and the Director of Parent and Family Engagement, and will be delivered directly to the children or to the schools as needed. It was noted that Pax River’s help and support will foster a successful school year for many children.
Farrell’s commanding officers have taken notice and feel he is an asset to both the department and the community he serves.
“PFC Farrell has and continues to work hard at building better relations between the public and the NAS Patuxent River Police Department,” said Maj. Stephen Schuyler. “[He] not only organizes and hosts Stuff a Cruiser, but he collects food for the needy and volunteers to represent the department at every community event from National Night Out to appearances of McGruff the Crime Dog.”
Lt. Bret Clingen, Farrell’s direct supervisor, also added that “PFC Farrell’s devotion to the Pax River Police and the community has definitely been a great asset to the command.”
As a kid, Farrell says he loved it when police officers and firefighters would come around to his school or hang out in his neighborhood, opening a hydrant for the kids, or letting them check out their squad cars and trucks.
“I always try to emulate that; I want to be a positive presence in the community,” he said. “I also want to thank my fellow officers and MA’s for giving their time in supporting the Stuff a Cruiser events through the years.”