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Ashland Policeman’s Ball a bash with purpose

BELLEFONTE, Ky. — As Amanda Clark put on her finest formalwear Saturday evening, she looked in the mirror, tearing up. The Ashland mommy couldn’t help but think of the little girls she met two years earlier.

The two preschoolers longed for frilly dresses to wear Christmas Eve. Their parents had no money to fulfill the holiday wish.

Looking up at Clark, bright-eyed, yearning, the smiling sisters pointed to the velvet, satin-trimmed matching frocks lined up on the Wal-Mart rack.

Playing Santa Claus for the day, the Ashland Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 members made the girls’ yuletide dream come true that cold December day through Shop-with-a-Cop — an initiative allowing underprivileged children and teens a chance to hit the superstore with a patrolman or deputy, purchasing Christmas gifts for themselves and family.

“It was a huge deal,” said Clark, wife of Ashland police detective Brian Clark. “Our kids have so much, so it’s always difficult when you see these children who are so thankful for the smallest things, like even a pair of socks.” Merrymaking — with heart

And so more than 100 guests joined the holiday spirit Saturday for the 67th annual Policeman’s Ball at the Bellefonte Country Club in Russell, Ky. The dinner and dance benefits their Shop-with-a-Cop program which is, seeing a record number of requests this Christmas season, due to area job losses and the flailing economy.

Together, at bedecked table rounds touched with long-stem rose floral displays, ebony tulle streamers, and crimson linens, benefactors shared a buffet meal, prepared by the skilled hands of award-winning Bellefonte Country Club executive chef Chris Ross and his expert kitchen staff.

Ross recently took the top spot in the OVC-Midwest chapter of the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) chef championship, his second year achieving the honor.

The Sullivan University graduate has been the club’s chef for five years.

The menu started off with a mixed green toss salad with a choice of dressings, including homemade ranch.

A carving station displayed prime rib with horseradish sauce and beef au jus, while marinated grilled chicken breast with roasted garlic cream sauce awaited diners alongside.

Beverly’s pecan crusted sweet potato casserole; Idaho mashed potatoes with Kentucky peppered gravy; Brian’s country style green beans with bacon; an herbed, steamed bouquet of garden vegetables, and house-made yeast rolls complemented the entrees.

Finishing up, Big Apple trained pastry chef Melissa Schell prepared New York style cheesecake, Italian Cream Cake and a chocolate mousse cake.

“Being a dad, I truly understand the importance of this fundraiser, helping local kids,” said Chef Ross, father to Brady. “So, I am honored to play a small part, preparing this meal.”

After dinner, local singer Larry Pancake and his band performed favorites of today and yesteryear, coupled with popular dance music. Pancake — a Greenup County sheriff’s deputy — grasps the significance of this yearly bash.

“I was glad to see so many people supporting the cause. Without FOP, there would be a lot of kids going without Christmas,” Pancake continued. “All the people that donated silent auction items, or the people who bought ball tickets, they are to be commended. It was a great turnout — one of the biggest. And, for me, as an entertainer, it’s really all about giving back.”

Spreading cheer

On Dec. 5th, police will converge on the Cannonsburg Wal-Mart, hand-in-hand with 100 kids in hopes of making spirits bright.

In the last five years, Ashland FOP Lodge 3 has spent in excess of $100,000 helping Santa’s elves, buying toys, clothes and sundries for needy kids at Shop-with-a-Cop, tallied city police Sgt. Tim Renfroe, who heads up the program.

“It’s a joyful occasion, seeing a child’s face light up — a little one who probably wouldn’t receive a holiday gift if not for the event,” he said.

Despite that, Renfroe said, it can also be a “sad time.”

“When you see this many kids in need, you know there could be that many more that you can’t reach out to,” said the police veteran. “We have limited resources and can’t take every child. It’s heart-wrenching, knowing you can’t help all of them. We just do our best to refer to other community agencies in hopes all the kids are serviced.”

After their shopping trips, the children will be treated to a warm and hearty meal from KFC, who donated coupons to the organization.

“Policeman’s Ball was a huge success this year. These folks help make it happen,” Renfroe said.

Ashland Police Department Lt. Bill Bare agreed.

“At Policeman’s Ball, it’s really about more than having a good time with friends, family and brothers,” continued Bare, event coordinator. “It makes you stop and take notice just how many people come out for the night, hoping their small effort will give a child a Christmas — a kid who might not otherwise find a gift under his tree on Christmas morning.

“It’s touching to me, after this many years in law enforcement, to know a community pulls together when needed. Honestly, on a daily basis, we know we might not be able to reach out to every kid. But, at this time of year, our Lodge sure tries its hardest,” Bare grinned.

“Some of my toughest days as a cop are spent during the holiday season on our Shop-with-a-Cop day. I got to admit, most officers feel really somber when it’s over. There’s always one little girl or boy you’ll never forget. The child who asks for toothpaste instead of a toy. The little boy who asks for a gift for his sister, saying he needs nothing. And, the teenager who shows up to shop on a cold December day, without a coat

“This is why we do this Ball,” Bare concluded. “For each of those kids.”

APD officer Jim Dooley and his wife Susan were on-hand, showing generosity. Susan Dooley works in the office of Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship.

“As a policeman and a father, it brings me a special sense of holiday cheer going to Wal-Mart with these children. Their parents struggle to make ends meet, so we give them the Christmas all kids deserve,” Officer Dooley went on. “Badge aside, as parents, helping these kids makes us feel good.”

Susan Dooley sees Shop-with-a-Cop as a spiritual calling.

“God has a way of bringing people together. We have to praise God that He equipped us with the financial ability to help out these children. It really opens your eyes when you see children who have almost nothing. It makes you see that material things really aren’t that important. Sometimes I hate even buying something for myself because I think how the money could help a needy child.”

It’s about joining forces to champion a Christmas cause, said Ashland Officer Josh Johnson.

“Policeman’s Ball is about the brothers and sisters of law enforcement coming together to celebrate our accomplishments in the past year,” he said. “It’s great because all police agencies join up to help the youth and support the wellness of the community.”

Bare praised the Bellefonte Country Club staffers for their hard work prepping for this inaugural event. The partnership was helpful, the venue elegant, the assistance of food service manager Claudia Hood and event manager Heather McBride a godsend, he said.

“They made it effortless. How could we do it without them?”

Family festivity

Kaitlin Riffe-Music, 19, of Ashland, has attended many Shop-with-a-Cop events with her Boyd County sheriff’s deputy dad, Rick Riffe. The ball is just another way she supports her extended family of police officers.

“If I need anything, I can call them. We’re a brotherhood. So, when kids need something at Christmas, we show the same support.”

Bare’s family came out too. His mother, Dottie Bare, 57, and aunt Nancy Ruggles, 62, both of Chesapeake, shared a table with Cousin Lynda Collins, 67, of Huntington.

“Billy’s job is very important to him,” Collins said. “He’s trying to make a difference for children — and do what’s best for all of us.”

“He always wanted to be in uniform, from the time he was little,” chimed in Ruggles, with a giggle. “He’d watch “Cops” on TV. He has really grown into the Ashland community and wants to help folks however he can. That’s why he does this.”

For the weeks of planning involved with the ball, Bare’s mom knows he did it for our local families.

“He’s good-hearted. We’re very proud of him and the way he reaches out. He just wants to see everyone happy.”