Black Mountain police light up the holidays for local residents

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

The emotion inside Mary Fender’s living room was palpable just after 11 a.m. on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Surrounded by the mayor, town manager and three members of the police department, the Black Mountain resident was overcome with gratitude.

“I don’t know if I can find the words, but I feel very fortunate they considered me,” she said of the visit. “I’m just so overwhelmed with emotion it brings tears to my eyes.”

Mary Fender hugs Black Mountain police chief Shawn Freeman in the living room of her home on Nov. 20, when Freeman was joined by two other officers from his department, the mayor and town manager as they dropped off a box of food. The delivery was one of 13 they made before Thanksgiving.

Fender’s was one of 13 households, selected by the Black Mountain Police Department, to receive a delivery of food in time for the holiday. The program is supported by donations from the community.

“We raise the money for it mostly during the Sourwood Festival,” said Shawn Freeman, chief of the Black Mountain Police Department. “Our officers collect donations there, and the public works department employees give money to help with it too.”

Last year the department raised $12,000, which was used to feed families and seniors in the community for Thanksgiving before providing Christmas presents to over 20 children in Black Mountain. This year, a little over $4,000 was contributed to the program as of Nov. 20.

The department selected nine families to receive Thanksgiving meals.

Black Mountain police officer Jon McDonald loads a box of mostly non-perishable food items into a truck outside of the station as chief Shawn Freeman opens the back door and Lieutenant Joe Kidd looks on. The trio were joined by town manager Josh Harrold and mayor Don Collins as they delivered the box to Mary Fender.

“We deliver each of the families a turkey, a ham, bread, all the trimmings,” Freeman said. “For a lot of the elderly people the big meal doesn’t really behoove them, so we’re putting together a box that weighs about 100 pounds, full of non-perishable food items. Candied yams, soups, things that they can use themselves or serve throughout the holidays.”

Some recipients are picked by the department, said officer Jon McDonald, who grew up in the community. McDonald and lieutenant Joe Kidd were in the group that visited Fender’s house on Nov. 20.

“Who better to know which people in the community could use some help then the people who are out here seeing them everyday?” said McDonald, who had previously visited Fender’s home in response to a fire. “There is no more rewarding feeling than having the chance to give back to the community you grew up in and work in everyday.”

Others who received deliveries were chosen with the help of the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, Freeman said.

“We reach out to them and ask them about people in the community they know of who could use a little support,” he said. “We try to work closely with that organization and director Cheryl Wilson because, with the work they do, they have an understanding of who could really use the help.”

Black Mountain resident Mary Fender thanks mayor Don Collins for being one of five people from the town to deliver food to her for Thanksgiving.

Fender, was the first of four seniors to receive a delivery from police officers and other town staff.

“We try to extend the opportunity for anybody who works with the town to come along,” Freeman said. 

For Fender, the delivery was “an answer to prayers.”

“This has been a hard year for me,” she said. “But now I have something I can make for Thanksgiving dinner when my kids come see me. I’m so happy.”

As the mayor left Fender’s home, he said he was “honored” that the department invited him to be a part of the delivery. The effort by the department, according to Collins, is just one example of the way it serves the community.

“This is the kind of stuff they do on a regular basis, especially around the holidays,” he said. “It’s what this department is all about, not just stopping bad guys, but helping the community. I’m really appreciative that they let me tag along.”

Mary Fender shakes Josh Harrold's hand on Nov. 20, when the town manager, mayor, chief of police and two other officers from the department dropped off a box of food for the holidays.

The town manager was touched by Fender’s gratitude.

“She was so obviously grateful and happy to see us,” he said. “This is a special program in the town and the department deserves a lot of credit for organizing it.”

The program, Lieutenant Kidd said, brings a little bit of light to the holiday season in a world that could use it.

“There is just too much negativity out there today,” he said. “It feels great to be part of something that means so much to the people who need it.”

The department isn’t finished spreading holiday cheer, according to Freeman. As they did last year, they are collecting toys to deliver to local children the week before Christmas.

“We take the donations from the public works department and work with community partners to shop for kids who otherwise wouldn’t receive gifts,” Freeman said. “A lot of the town staff in other departments contribute as well and the public is welcome to drop of new, unwrapped toys at the station.”

The gifts will be wrapped at the department and distributed by officers and town staff.

“We want people to understand that we’re here to take care of the community,” Freeman said. “We look at this program not as something the department is doing, but as a partnership between the community and department to help other people in the community."

Support for the program within the department is strong, according to McDonald.

“We’re good people,” he said of the officers in the department. “We get into this line of work because we have a desire to help the community. This program helps show young folks and others in the community that we’re here to help and not hurt.”

It also gives people who want to help others in the community a way to do so, Freeman said.

“We get plenty of people who are just looking for a way to do something nice for others during the holidays,” he said. “This is a community that really works hard to help take care of each other, and it makes us proud that the department can be a part of that.”

The reactions of the people who receive the support “tugs at the heart,” Freeman said.

“Seeing the relief on people’s faces knowing that their holidays might be a little easier is really powerful and we’re lucky to get to experience that,” he said.

Fender embraced each of the five men who delivered her food before they left.

“Thank you so much,” she said to Freeman, who reflected on the trip later.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s even more special because this is the community supporting one another and we just get to reap the rewards of their generosity, and it sure is a good feeling when you see it brighten someone’s holidays.”