Campus police spread holiday cheer for local nonprofit

New Kensington ‘Cram the Crusier’ event collects toys, supplies for children to use at YMCA
Police officer puts gift in car

Sergeant James Lane, Penn State New Kensington's campus police commander, places a gift in the campus police cruiser during the first "Cram the Cruiser" event on Dec. 11. The event helped the campus' Police and Public Safety Department collect nearly 200 toys and items to be donated to the local Valley Points Family YMCA early learning and school age childcare centers.

Credit: Rebecca Dietrich

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The nearly 200 children served by the Valley Points Family YMCA’s seven early learning and school-age childcare sites in the Alle-Kiski Valley will have new toys, games and art supplies at their locations thanks to Penn State New Kensington’s Police and Public Safety department.

“Penn State University Police and Public Safety is very focused on providing community oriented policing initiatives to not only our campus community, but also to our surrounding communities,” said Wesley Sheets, Southwest District deputy chief. “This event was a wonderful way for us to provide a little pick me up during this incredible season of giving to those who may need one.”

Sheets, who oversees police and public safety departments at the New Kensington, Greater Allegheny, Fayette and Altoona campuses, asked campus commanders to consider doing an event for the community this holiday season.

“The fact that our police officers would take on this amazing initiative with such dedication and withstand the cold weather for hours to ensure the success of this event is another example of their commitment to excellence and community.”

-- Wesley Sheets, southwest district commander, Penn State University Police and Public Safety

Sergeant James Lane, the New Kensington campus commander, took Sheets’ call-to-action and created the idea for “Cram the Cruiser,” where members of the campus and community could donate items for a local organization and try to fill a campus police cruiser in one day. Although there were less than two weeks to plan and promote the event, Sheets and Lane weren’t surprised at the tremendous response from the campus.

“They consistently run with ideas like ‘Cram the Cruiser’ and make them more successful than I could ever personally imagine,” said Sheets. “I merely asked for them to consider this type of event this season; they ran with the idea and are fully responsible for its success! I am very fortunate to have such incredible staff.”

On Dec. 11, Lane and Andrew Loveridge, campus police officer, bundled up in their warmest winter gear to wait at the front of campus with the cruiser for donations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. By the end of the day, campus staff, faculty and students, as well as members of the community, had filled the cruiser with nearly 200 items.

Man puts wrapped gift in car

Kevin Snider, chancellor at Penn State New Kensington, places a gift in the back of the campus' police cruiser during the "Cram the Cruiser" event on Dec. 11.

Credit: Rebecca Dietrich

Sheets said this is just one example of the officers exhibiting the values of the University’s Police and Public Safety unit.

“Our officers are held to very high standards which are tied directly to the established core values at Penn State University,” said Sheets. “The fact that our police officers would take on this amazing initiative with such dedication and withstand the cold weather for hours to ensure the success of this event is another example of their commitment to excellence and community.”

Michael Newell, chief executive officer of the Valley Points Family YMCA, visited campus during the event and spent time with Lane as donations were delivered.

“The Valley Points Family YMCA is very lucky to have wonderful community partners like Penn State New Kensington who support the work of the Y in our region and the impact it has on the kids and families we serve,” said Newell. “I am blown away by the generosity of their police department and the whole campus coming together to invest in supplies and materials that can help strengthen our child care and after school programs.

Lane and Sheets were able to personally deliver the collected donations to the YMCA’s New Kensington branch in downtown New Kensington, as well as visit with toddler-aged children at its New Kensington Early Learning Center.

Man holds gifts

Wesley Sheets, southwest district deputy chief for Penn State University Police and Public Safety, helps deliver toy and supply donations to the Valley Points Family YMCA's New Kensington branch location in downtown New Kensington. The donations were the result of the New Kensington campus' police officer-led "Cram the Cruiser" event on Dec. 11.

Credit: Rebecca Dietrich

“Our Y is one of the largest child care and after-school care providers in the Alle-Kiski area,” explained Newell. “The supplies and toys will be organized and distributed to our sites based on the variety of the donations and the local need at each site. The easiest way to express our gratitude would simply be to say thank you to everyone that participated in this event, and know that over the next year there will be a children at our Y sites using the items that everyone donated.”

Penn State University Police and Public Safety, first established in 1926 as Campus Patrol, is responsible for protecting and serving more than 100,000 Penn State students, faculty and staff members, plus visitors, at 22 campuses located throughout Pennsylvania. In 2017, Penn State centralized the unit by combining campus-based police stations into one, cohesive police department under the direction of the assistant vice president for police and public safety.

In 2013, Sheets began his Penn State career as the New Kensington campus’ first public safety manager and quickly rose through the ranks, first as chief of police for the campus before becoming the Southwest District Commander. Lane joined the campus as a full-time officer at the campus in 2017 before being promoted to station commander and sergeant this year. Officer Loveridge joined the department in 2018.

“I am always proud of the dedication from Sgt. Lane, the officers and the campus community at Penn State New Kensington,” expressed Sheets. “I was extremely fortunate to start my career at such an amazing place.”