In between bites of his grilled cheese sandwich, second-grader Aaron Toftum quizzed Wadena County Deputy Tyler Wheeler about being in law enforcement: “Do you ever get scared? What kind of car do you drive? What’s the fastest you’ve caught someone speeding?”
Afterwards, Toftum said he really enjoyed visiting with Officer Wheeler. In fact, the 8-year-old said when he grows up, he might want to be a deputy or a firefighter. “Those guys are brave,” said Toftum.
It truly was an amazing sight to see students visiting with 15 law enforcement officers representing the State Patrol, Wadena County Sheriff’s Department, Verndale Police Department and Department of Natural Resources, as Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary’s Parent-Teacher Organization hosted its first-ever “Law Enforcement Luncheon” on January 15 in the school cafeteria.
Wadena Police Chief Naomi Plautz said this kind of connection is “vital.” She said oftentimes officers in the community try and connect with youth at community events where they have to come to them.
“This time, we were able to come to the youth, on their turf, at their level, just for them. We didn't have a critical reason or a chaotic call we were on when we saw them. It was just nice to sit and be among them,” said Chief Plautz, whose two sons, Jacob, a third-grader, and Riley, a first-grader, were there to support their mom. The two boys were sporting new white T-shirts – a gift from the Wadena-Deer Creek PTO – that read, "My Hero Wears A Badge. I Call Her Mom."
Wadena-Deer Creek parent Stacy Carr came up with the idea after seeing a similar event on a blog that provides support for families who work in law enforcement. Her husband, Cory, is the police chief for the city of Verndale.
Carr said when she ran across the idea, she immediately bounced it off the school’s PTO president, Alicia Wynn, who in turn, ran with it.
“It’s such a great opportunity for students to see law enforcement in a positive environment,” said Wynn, who also put together appreciation gift bags for each officer, as well as snapped photos of officers and their children who attend Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary and put those photos in a keepsake frame.
Law enforcement had a great time interacting with students too.
“It’s a great way to show kids the positive side of things. Some students might only have interacted with law enforcement in a different situation,” said Minnesota State Trooper Isaac Ray, who was thrilled to have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with his son Joseph, a Kindergartner at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary.
Several classes made posters, banners and cards of appreciation, which were displayed in the cafeteria hallways to welcome law enforcement.
A banner made by Angie Moats’ Kindergarten class read: “For all you have done and all you will do, I know I am safe because of you.”
Wynn said she looks forward to making “Lunch with Law Enforcement” an annual event. “This event is a great way for our school to say thank you to law enforcement for all they do to protect and serve,” Wynn added.
Carr said she couldn’t have been more pleased with how the first event turned out. “It was fabulous!”
For the officers, the highlight was seeing the smiling and eager faces when law enforcement officers arrived in the school cafeteria.
“We also loved the stories they shared with us, the questions they asked us, and just being able to forget about the ‘world’ for a little while because of the innocent company we were lucky enough to be a part of,” said Chief Plautz.