‘A humbling experience’: URI Police collect thousands of holiday donations for Stuff-A-Cruiser

KINGSTON, RI – Dec. 22, 2022 – The URI Police Department and other members of the University community recently teamed up to collect over 2,500 donations of toys, clothing, and gift cards to grocery stores as part of the annual Stuff-A-Cruiser Holiday Toy Drive. Stationed outside the Walmart Superstore in North Kingstown last weekend, the group had two busy days of gift gathering.

Shawn Miner, URI’s coordinator of community outreach and education for the Department of Safety, coordinated the event. “We had five or six officers at the event,” said Miner. “We also had a large representation from the Department of Public Safety as a whole. We had someone from the finance department who donated their time, and someone from emergency management. Other public safety administrative staff donated their time as well. It was an all-hands-on-deck approach this year.”

Deputy Chief Paul Ricci lends a hand as Britany Valliere of North Kingstown and her daughters Averi, 1, and Aria, 3, make a donation.

The donation drive began in 2015 when Michael Jagoda, now URI director of public safety and chief of police, got the campus police involved. It’s run every year since, except for a temporary shutdown in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Preparations began in November, when Miner reached out to local charities to ask about specific needs or requests from families, whether they were in shelters or other accommodations. “We get everything organized, including things that are normally in low supply. We type up a list and distribute it to customers at Walmart on the day of the event. They go in and shop for things that are on that list, and then we divide the purchases accordingly. There are a lot of moving parts, but it is a team effort, and it’s very rewarding when it all comes together.”

The list of charities that benefit from the event is extensive: Hasbro Children’s Hospital, the Olean Center in Westerly, the South County Welcome House, the Jonnycake Center, and the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center.

Almost as soon as donations began to arrive, volunteers started sorting and separating them according to requests. “It’s organized chaos,” Miner said. “It’s also fun, because it gets you in the holiday spirit.”

The process makes the police station look a bit different as well. “With all the gifts, the station pretty much looks like a toy store.” The organizing and actual distribution of the donations only takes about three days.

The experience of being part of the event was sometimes moving for Miner.

“One of the things I found most memorable was the involvement of children. We were approached by children and their parents, people who were talking about things they had been through and their appreciation for law enforcement and the charity work we do. We also had recently retired members of the University who stopped by and donated.”

Others wanted to share stories of having been in similar situations to the ones that people in shelters endure. “Some people shared their own life experiences of how they dealt with hardships and how they are now in a better place, one where they’re able to donate,” he said. “It was humbling.”

This story was written by Hugh Markey.