NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop Penn State New Kensington's Police and Public Safety Department from holding a successful holiday donation drive to benefit the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center, which provides various programs and an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.
"Responsibility to our community is a value we take pride in providing," said James Lane, police sergeant and campus commander at Penn State New Kensington. "The same can be said for our Penn State community that rallied during a year of a pandemic to support the needs of the local community."
Last year, the department, under the leadership of Lane, held its first "Cram the Cruiser" event, which collected nearly 200 items for the Valley Points Family YMCA's seven early learning and school-age child care sites in the local region. Lane and the department began the event in 2019 with the intent to choose a different, local beneficiary organization each year.
The HOPE Center was a timely and relevant cause for this year's "Cram the Cruiser," with research and reports showing a marked increase in intimate partner violence during the continuing pandemic and as shown by Penelope Morrison and Richard Wentling, assistant professors at the campus, in a recent "Insights from Experts" post.
"The pandemic has presented challenges and barriers for victims of domestic violence, such as further isolation with the abuser due to stay-at-home orders, employment loss, remote work in the abusive environment and social distancing from support systems," added Traci Arnold, supervisor of prevention services at the HOPE Center, who also cited a COVID-19 Special Report from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "These obstacles all add to the barriers of accessing support and resources from domestic violence providers. Services for victims are imperative, whether they need to speak with an advocate, receive options or resources or are planning to leave an abuser and need to safely plan."
Nearly 500 new items including clothing, kitchen and cleaning supplies, toys and sanitary products were collected by the department, campus community and local supporters from "Cram the Cruiser," which was led this year by Teri Bracco, who joined the department as a police officer in January 2020.
"The department cares for the entire community, and we are here to help in any way possible," said Bracco,
Arnold said the items will support a number of its programs, including "HOPE's emergency shelter, where families often enter with little to nothing due to fleeing in a hurry and leaving much of their belongings behind." Donations will also assist its outreach families and those in its rapid re-housing programs.
Arnold continued, "The coordination and collection efforts of the Penn State New Kensington campus community make a tremendous impact. The generous gifts from this event assist in making positive memories for families who have experienced domestic violence and can receive items they otherwise financially are not able to afford during this time."
Instead of holding the event over the course of just a few days, the department began collecting items shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday to provide a greater opportunity for faculty, staff and students to participate before the University concluded in-person instruction Nov. 20 and transitioned to a remote conclusion of classes to the end of the semester. Between Dec. 15-17, Bracco and Lane were also available outside the campus' main entrance with their police cruiser to accept donations from last-minute campus donors and community members, physically-distanced and masked. Collected items were then sanitized and delivered to the HOPE Center's administrative offices in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 18.
"Even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, our campus and local community was very generous with their donations, and it is much appreciated," said Bracco.
Established in 1926 as Campus Patrol, today Penn State University Police and Public Safety is responsible for protecting and serving more than 100,000 Penn State students, employees and visitors at 22 campuses throughout Pennsylvania.
In 2017, Penn State centralized University Police and Public Safety by combining campus-based units into one, cohesive department under the direction of the associate vice president with a department headquarters at University Park.