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Vandergrift police officers distribute over 500 ski caps to elementary students

posted Dec 14, 2015, 11:20 PM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Jan 1, 2016, 6:45 PM ]
About 500 kids in the Vandergrift area now have a new winter hat thanks to Vandergrift police. 

On Monday, officers handed out blue-and-gold ski caps to East Primary School students and to 90 students at The Cardinal Maida Academy.

Weeks earlier, Patrolman Richard “Joe” Gray was parked near an elementary school when he saw a hatless young boy walking to school.

“It was a very cold morning, so I went over to talk with him,” said Gray, a patrolman and father. “I asked him about it, and he told me he didn't have a hat — not one.”

In quick order, Gray discussed what he had seen with other officers, including Patrolman Nate Riggatti, and Sgt. Stephen J. Callipare. The sergeant asked area businesses if they could help.

Thirteen businesses, churches and social clubs and one individual — Gray's mother — contributed about $1,200.

Brenda Gray has just retired from baking at Community Market in Lower Burrell.

“I told her she just retired and didn't have the money,” Gray said, “but she insisted.”

“This is Vandergrift's future, and we have a vested interest,” she said.

On Monday, Officer Charity Butz, an Allegheny Township officer assigned as resource officer to the Kiski Area School District's six schools, and Callipare joined Gray and Rigatti for the hat distribution.

Without prompting, at least a dozen students at the public school walked up to hug an officer.

Many knew the officers by their first name.

Rigatti plays kick ball with students when not on duty. Gray and Callipare have children who are students at the schools and Butz is in and out of East Primary daily.

Each officer separately said they hope students — especially when they are older and facing challenges — will turn to police and teachers for answers if they can't talk with their parents.

Warm hats, warm smiles

In some classrooms, teachers used cellphones to take a photo of the students in their caps with the officers who gave them.

Many of the second-graders smiled broadly, flashing grins sporting missing baby teeth that charmed the officers no matter how many times they were told thank you.

One girl put the cap on top of faux reindeer antlers.

Jodie McCartney, a fourth-grade teacher from Washington Township, said the hat distribution made the police more friends.

First-grade teacher Samantha Gispanski, of Ford City, said, “One student just asked me if he could wear his hat all day.”

Kelly Ridenour, a second-grade teacher from Lower Burrell, said the police cap distribution was a hit.

“This is a wonderful idea,” she said.

East Primary Principal Patrick Marchand introduced the officers to each classroom and praised the children's good behavior.

He clearly enjoyed helping to distribute the ski caps, which sported Kiski Area's school colors.

“Wait until they go home today. We have 350 walkers,” he said. “I can't wait to see all of them wearing the caps. It should be something.

The scene at Cardinal Maida

Down the street at The Cardinal Maida Academy, Principal Mark Talarico embraced the distribution.

“The children know Mr. Gray because he has a son here,” he said. “They are getting to know some of the other police, and that's a great thing.”

Police had to hold off distributing hats in the classroom of music teacher Donna Blair, of Bell Township, while 10 students practiced two Christmas songs for a Thursday program. The officers applauded twice and smiled.

Students are seeing police as mentors instead of someone who will just arrest people, Blair said, and that will pay off when the students are older.

The caps were a hit with the mothers of two pre-kindergarten students at the Academy.

“This is nice. Very nice,” said Bethany Gourley, of East Vandergrift.

“It was a really nice thing to do,” said Bethany Traugh, of Allegheny Township.

By Chuck Biedka Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, 12:36 a.m.