MANATEE — It happens too often. Dad gets drunk, slaps mom and someone dials 911.
Police arrive, and as the couple’s frightened and confused children huddle in a corner, they watch the officers handcuff their father and take him away.
To reduce stress during traumatic events like domestic violence, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and two other Manatee emergency departments have teamed up to initiate The Book Project.
Officers hope to keep age-specific books in their patrol cars and distribute them to children 12 and younger to keep their minds occupied during investigations of domestic violence and abuse. The books are purchased with donations from area businesses and left behind with the children as a gift.
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“My hope is that they’ll be used during the calls to take the child away from what’s going on in that moment,” said Bradenton resident Peggy Sammons, who spearheaded the project and whose husband is a sheriff’s office lieutenant. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids in this county who don’t even get their hands on books. The literacy aspect of leaving these books behind is a side benefit.”
Another benefit: the relationship the program cultivates between child and officer, says sheriff’s Detective Kim Zink. There’s a greater likelihood the children will view officers as friendly and approachable.
“A lot of times kids don’t like the police, all they know is they come and take mom and dad away,” said Zink. “So this is a building bridge for the sheriff’s office to let them know we’re not the bad guy.”
Cedar Hammock Fire Department also has agreed to distribute books during its calls. Sammons dropped off a few hundred at their station Thursday.
The sheriff’s office begins its distribution this week. So does Holmes Beach Police Department, who also agreed to the project.
Sammons got the idea at work and ran with it.
“It’s something that had been on my heart,” said Sammons, who owns Creative Kids, a preschool on 75th Street Northwest in Bradenton. “I come in contact with children who have parents who have been investigated for domestic violence and it’s so sad. Just something, a passion in my heart that I finally just said, ‘OK God, I’m gonna run with this and you take it where you want it go to.’”
She’ll accept books from anyone.
“I’d love to take this countywide,” she said. “And the doors have just swung open wide because just about everyone in the world holds children near and dear and above all else.”
So far, five Manatee businesses have donated money for books including Howard Leasing Inc., Mark Elfervig, a local doctor, the First America Bank branch on Manatee Avenue and Melanie Williams, a local stylist.
The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County spent about $3,000 for the first installment of books — 2,000 of them, she said.
“They came through with such a bang,” said Sammons, who recently became a literacy partner with Scholastic, a publisher and distributor of children’s books.
Sammons is asking businesses to commit to purchasing books twice a year. Because she’s a literacy partner, she gets them at a discount.
The books not only help with immediate situations, but potential future incidents too.
Inside each book cover: a sticker with 911 and other emergency numbers listed on it.
To donate, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (941) 794-8687.
Natalie Neysa Alund, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7095.