At this time of the year, gifts come in all shapes and sizes, some elaborately wrapped and presented. However, for selected residents of the Valhalla neighborhood in Milwaukee, some of the most welcomed gifts this season did not come wrapped. What they lacked in paper, ribbons and bows, they made up for in warmth, literally and figuratively, as the presents were warm outerwear donated by members of the Faith-Based Organizations Initiative in cooperation with the 4th District of the Milwaukee Police Department.

The Faith-Based Organizations Initiative (FBO) is a group of churches and other outreach organizations that provide a variety of services within the 4th District. Last fall, at one of their regular meetings, members of the police department, along with representatives from the FBO, surfaced a plan to further establish rapport among the police officers, religious groups and residents of the district.

“We put our heads together and collectively discussed ways to increase faith, hope and inspiration within the district,” said Lt. Shunta Boston-Smith, second shift commander at the 4th District.

The participants decided to concentrate on the Valhalla neighborhood and utilized the expertise of the beat officers in the district.

“The beat officers were assigned to identify families they knew who could use winter outerwear,” Boston-Smith said. The families should have at least three children and be amenable to receiving help.

After making contact with prospective recipients, the officers provided the names of the families, the number and sizes of the children to FBO members, including representatives from Blessed Savior Catholic Church, located in the 4th District.

“We provided the names and members of the FBO took one or two families. We were kind of the matchmakers,” Boston-Smith said.

It was a match made in heaven for the church members and the recipients, according to Judy Adrian, pastoral associate at Blessed Savior.

“This was just a very positive thing,” she said. “The response was immediate.”

Once the items were gathered, they were delivered to the designated recipients.

The reactions from the participants were as warm as the clothing, according to Boston-Smith.

“We got what I call ‘praise reports’ back from the people with glowing feedback,” she said.

In the spirit of the season, the gift giving superseded race, color, creed or religious affiliations. It was very probable that a Catholic had given clothing to a Baptist, a Lutheran to a Catholic, a religious person to a non-religious person and most likely that a Muslim had given gifts to a Christian, as a mosque is also part of the 42 or so churches involved in this program.

“Although we all believe in different things, we do believe in something,” Boston-Smith said. “That belief has allowed us to become who we are.”

Adrian said the participants in the FBO were “very wonderful people, who are working hard to bring a sense of neighborhood and pride to their area.”

Not to mention generosity.    

According to Boston-Smith, many of the churches went far beyond the requested items.

“One of the churches not only provided outerwear for the children, they also provided a stove and refrigerator,” she said.

Fourth District Captain Jerome O’ Leary said the program provided excellent “community building, service to community and showed the kindness in all of us. It is an excellent program in which religious leaders and police and other community leaders come together and truly demonstrate what religion is all about.”

And in a true sense of “gifts that keep on giving,” many of the FBO participants received such an outpouring of warm clothing they were able to provide the surplus to other families in need.

The police and the FBO were so excited about the results of this inaugural event, they are planning on extending the program next year to other neighborhoods in the district.

“This went way beyond religion or police work. It was really a win, win situation,” Boston-Smith said.