Christmas cheer honors late trooper

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2007

COURTLAND—The spirit of Robert A. Hill Sr. lives on this Christmas, as law enforcement officers and members of the community band together to make sure area children all get something special in their stockings.

With 3,500 toys, 30 bikes and helmets and more than $1,200 worth of winter coats, clothes and shoes — and with donations still coming in from all over — the Robert A. Hill Toy Drive could turn out bigger than even the generous Trooper Hill could have imagined.

Organizers expect to distribute toys to children in Franklin and Southampton County next week in honor of the man who got the annual effort off the ground 15 years ago.

Senior Trooper Hill was killed during a traffic stop on the day after Thanksgiving in 2006. He was well known in the area for his generosity and love for children.

Those traits led him to begin working with the Head Start organization in the early 1990s to donate coats and shoes for children of poor families. Through the years, his individual effort grew to include others who worked for the Virginia State Police and began to encompass toy donations, along with the clothing. In 1999 Trooper John Brown got the Fraternal Order of Police involved, and that organization began donating bicycles for Christmas presents.

With the death of Trooper Hill, others stepped in last year to continue the tradition, naming the toy drive after its founder and collecting donations to make it a success.

Friend Michelle Buchanan set up an account for donations at Bronco Federal Credit Union and put together a nonprofit organization to take charge of the effort. She distributed toys to several dozen children last year.

Since then, both donations and requests for aid have grown by leaps and bounds, according to Assistant Southampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Randall, who leads the effort this year with Trooper Brown, a fellow member of FOP Lodge 56.

That lodge was dedicated to the memory of the deceased state trooper in a springtime ceremony attended by his family and friends, as well as Virginia’s superintendent of State Police and Secretary of Public Safety.

Next week, the Robert A. Hill Sr. FOP Lodge No. 56 will be one of two distribution locations where about 500 children from Southampton and Franklin will gather to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled.

Toy drive workers will be on hand from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at the lodge on Main Street in Courtland and at the Sportsman’s Club in Franklin to give away bags of toys to the children on lists they have developed in recent weeks.

They got names of needy children from Head Start, from social services and from other community organizations. Those children are the focus of the efforts, Randall said, but all kids from the community are invited to the FOP Lodge at 6 p.m. Thursday to see Santa.

The toy drive may be in memory of Trooper Hill, but it could not take place without the generous support of people and organizations from all over Franklin and Southampton, Randall said.

Donations began flowing in right after Christmas last year and continue through today, he said. Donors include organizations such as the Courtland Lions Club and Franklin Police Department’s Cops for Kids program, as well as individuals, including some people who see police officers shopping for toys at Wal Mart and give them cash donations. A motorcycle &uot;Toy Run&uot; last weekend raised $400 and 50 toy donations.

Students at Hunterdale Elementary School collected 1,300 toys, Brown said, and donations continue to be accepted at Curves and at Bronco Federal Credit Union. Checks should be made payable to FOP 56; donors should write &uot;Toy Drive&uot; on the memo line.