Toiletries drive makes Aurora police officer a hero to domestic violence shelter
In comic books, costumed heroes perform superhuman feats to save people.
But Aurora police Officer William Whitfield helps by making sure people escaping domestic violence don't have to worry about packing a toothbrush when they leave.
Donning a red elf hat over his blue uniform, Whitfield ran a "Christmas in July" toiletries drive earlier this month benefiting clients of Mutual Ground of Aurora. The nonprofit agency helps survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
With a nearby tree decorated with crime-scene tape and Christmas music playing in the background, Whitfield and several helpers filled two cargo vans and an SUV with toiletries, baby items and toilet paper. People also donated $2,125.
The drive was the result of a seed planted four years ago by a speaker at a women's empowerment conference Whitfield attended. The speaker challenged attendees to do something to help victims of domestic violence in their communities.
Whitfield said he was there because he believes it is important men understand women's perspectives, especially in the male-dominated field of law enforcement.
As a patrol officer, Whitfield said he's been called to numerous domestic violence incidents, especially during the midnight shift.
"Oftentimes, the survivor does not have any place to go," Whitfield said.
That's how he became familiar with the work done by Mutual Ground, which provides emergency shelter for people escaping abuse. In 2020, 135 adults and 109 children used the emergency shelter for a total of 10,302 nights.
Why a "Christmas in July" event?
Whitfield said he sees an uptick in domestic violence calls during warm weather months. Whether it is irritation due to hotter temperatures, more people at home because school's out or other contributing factors, "summer brings problems to the surface," Whitfield said.
Betsy Santana, marketing and development coordinator for Mutual Ground, was surprised by how many items were donated.
"I really did not expect the amount," she said. But, "we can never have too much of them."
For many clients, "they really don't have time to grab much" when they leave their abuser, Santana said. Being given a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of shampoo may seem like a small thing, but it is one less thing the survivor has to worry about.
"Even just having those basic necessities gives them the security to begin the healing process," Santana said.
The drive was not a one-and-done event. Whitfield plans to do it again next year, he said. He is forming a committee to help him.
"Let's get us all involved together and make this partnership happen," he said.