By Debbie Adams
McGruff the Crime Dog showed up at lunchtime at Herman L. Horn Elementary School recently to help Principal Julie Sandzimier and Vinton Police Sgt. Michael Caldwell distribute meals to students now that schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caldwell is the Community Services Officer with the Vinton Police Department, serving as a liaison between the department and the Vinton elementary schools.
One of his duties during a normal school year is to visit Herman L. Horn and W. E. Cundiff schools each day–checking in with the school office, walking through the halls to chat with students and teachers, maybe having lunch with individual students, and assisting the flag raising teams at each school.
As for McGruff, the Vinton Police Department received a Byrne Justice Assistant Grant for Youth Engagement in January to fund supplies and materials for a McGruff the Crime Dog’s Safety Club and Meet and Greet Sessions at Town of Vinton and other local events. The program is designed for children 5 to 10 years of age, giving them an opportunity to learn about safety topics ranging from bullying to strangers to emergency readiness.
Items purchased by the grant funding included an animated McGruff costume and a Scruff costume, an event tent, folding tables and chairs, McGruff educational materials, crayons, a monthly subscription to Survey Monkey to collect feedback from parents and teachers, and other items.
This innovative program is unique in the valley and is meant to engage youth in order to make the community safer. McGruff, the Crime Dog, has a long track record of being an effective method of conveying numerous crime prevention topics.
Caldwell had several events planned in schools, in the community and at the Vinton Library for McGruff which had to be cancelled with closures of the schools, library, and public events for the foreseeable future.
McGruff took the opportunity of weekday meal distributions at several Roanoke County schools, to put in an appearance at HLH and hand out Safety Skills coloring books along with lunch.
Sandzimier says the meals program at Herman L. Horn is going quite well with about 225 meals distributed at lunch time each day during the week of April 13 following Spring Break. The meal program will continue until the end of the school year in May. Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely says that plans are to transition to the summer feeding program soon after—depending upon the COVID-19 restrictions in force at that time.