Cookies with a Cop could be another one-church tradition
Take a United Church of Christ General Synod tradition, add a new twist, you end up with a grassroots program geared at building relationships between police officers and the community they serve.
Take a United Church of Christ General Synod tradition, add a new twist, and “Cookies with a Cop,” is the result. A grassroots program that started after Synod this summer is geared to building relationships between police officers and the community they serve. It’s off to such a good start in Greater Cleveland that local organizers hope it can become a wider church tradition. The latest chapter unfolded Sept. 13 at First Congregational UCC in Hudson, Ohio.
As part of its “First Serve–Serve First” annual day of service, church volunteers baked enough chocolate chip cookies to fill 30 plastic containers. Captain Keith Sulzer of the Cleveland Police Foundation attended a thank-you potluck as festivities ended Sunday and accepted the cookies, which officers will share with children and adults along their routes. Once empty, the plastic containers will store coloring and other art supplies and be placed in the cruisers. When officers encounter a situation where children need to be removed temporarily from a dangerous circumstance, the children can use the supplies in the box while the officers calm the situation.
“This is the kind of thing police officers need to do more of,” Sulzer told the potluck audience. “We have to form relationships and start communications and start conversations. A cookie is a very simple idea that I think can make some friends … The more of these kinds of activities you do, the less problems we’re going to have in the future. And I think it’s going to multiply.”
“Cookies with a Cop” is the “legacy of the UCC’s General Synod 2015,” said Sue Wimer, co-chair of the Synod Local Arrangements Committee and a member of First Congregational UCC.
That’s because at each UCC General Synod –– the national, biennial meeting of the denomination –– local church members bake and deliver cookies to the convention so that delegates and visitors have free snacks during the five-day meeting. But this year, the bakers got carried away, so there were lots and lots of cookies. Some 50,000 cookies to be exact.
The 352 local UCC churches in Ohio sent so many cookies to the Cleveland Convention Center that by Sunday, June 28, planners knew they had a huge surplus. In a chance conversation with undercover Cleveland police officer Sam Anderson, “Cookie Queen” Gwen Zielasko (also of First Congregational UCC in Hudson) told him, “I could probably give you enough cookies to put a box or two in every cruiser in Cleveland, and you could just hand them out.”
Anderson shared that with Sulzer and by the next morning, a police van stopped at Synod, picked up cookies and distributed them near a day drop-in center in downtown Cleveland. A second police van took cookies to a women’s shelter.
A June 30 post on the Cleveland Police Foundation’s Facebook page and website describing “Cookies with a Cop” was picked up by several police departments and groups across the country who would like to start the tradition in their communities. “Thank you, United Church of Christ and Gwen from Hudson for thinking of the police and helping us foster a better relationship with the community we serve,” the post concluded.
Locally, Wimer would like to see United Church of Christ congregations throughout Greater Cleveland bake chocolate chip cookies each June and deliver them to the Cleveland Police Department or to their own local police departments. She dreams of it becoming a nationwide event.
The partnership between the Cleveland Police Foundation and First Congregational UCC in Hudson doesn’t stop with the cookies. During First Serve–Serve First, Sulzer coordinated a large service project with Hudson youth director Steve Hockstra. Activities included cleaning alleys and vacant lots, helping out at urban gardens, and laying a brick pathway and seeding the lawn at the Fulton Reading Garden.
Many cities struggle with the idea of police and community relations, said the Rev. Peter Wiley, pastor of First Congregational. “To have that opportunity for police to interact with some of the residents in such a simple way as [sharing] a cookie and a bottle of water, for me, is one of the most ‘beginning to heal’ type activities that to me is just ingenious.”
“It’s just a simple thing – a beginning. But unless you begin, you’ll never get anywhere.”
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