The loss of a loved one, family member or friend is always difficult. When tragic circumstances are added to the equation, the loss seems so much greater. And it seems to hurt forever. One of the reasons may be the emptiness felt by “those who were left behind.” They are the ones, family and friends, left to endure the pain and even loneliness we experience. Sudden death or loss is so painful because we never had a chance to say good-bye.
Each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, police officers, civilians and volunteer citizens, donate their time at a charity collection table in Aventura Mall (and other mall locations) to collect funds for the children of those officers who have been killed in the line of duty. These were our officers, they served our community in Miami Dade County, they were our neighbors and our friends. The Police Officer Assistance Trust (P.O.A.T.) has committed over the many years of its existence, to never forget the children of those who paid the ultimate price, during the Holiday Season. Christmas is an especially difficult time for them. In my own career experience, I will never forget the call on Christmas night when one of my colleagues was shot and killed in the line of duty. What a terrible Christmas for his children in his family. But since then those children have never been forgotten due to the P.O.A.T. and those who contributed their time and their funds.
Of course, there are always a few who are the catalysts behind the success of the program. In our case, it is the Aventura mall coordinator, Captain Dwight Snyder of the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department. He along with so many of our officers and those from other agencies, worked every weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas, to insure those Holiday gifts would make it to each and every surviving child. We also had several surprises this year including a day when Debbie Castillo, widow of slain police officer Roger Castillo, showed up at the table with her youngest of 3 sons, to work the table, greet the public and say thank you to all the volunteers. I could not help but dwell the entire time we were all there, how Christmas must be without dad around. Roger and his partner, Detective Amanda Haworth were gunned down by a murder suspect on January 20, 2011. The entire county and community stopped that morning and cried and prayed and questioned why?
There were other special guests including this bearded, heavy set character in a red suit named SANTAwho regularly stopped by to snap photos with donors and workers. And of course our own City Manager, Chris Russo, who not only volunteers and works the table along with officers, he also says Thank You to them for their service to our city by making a sizeable, personal contribution each year as his gift at Christmas.
These people, these acts of kindness and remembrance are the only things we have to lessen the pain for “those left behind.”
I wish each and every one of our residents, visitors and business owners and city officials and employees a safe and blessed 2014, and we thank you for your support.