A head start for bike safety: Palmyra Police, Cross County Connection team up for helmet giveaway

As Palmyra Police Department SRO Omar Kendall and Officer Michael Julia watch, Vincent Spezzano, 10, waits for Cross County Connection’s Safe Routes to School Coordinator Latifah Sunkett to fit his new bicycle helmet. The nonprofit and police department partnered for the giveaway. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

Two tables took up residence in front of borough hall on Monday morning, Aug. 10, one filled with free bicycle helmets and the other with accessories and literature on safe biking.

It was all part of the Palmyra Police Department’s latest outreach for borough children.

“It’s mandatory for kids to have their helmets on. When we’re driving and patrolling, we see so many kids not wearing them,” SRO (School Recess Officer) Omar Kendall said. “We just want to make sure everyone is safe.”

As children stopped by for their free helmets, Kendall appeared to know each one. He smiled and asked how dentist visits went, inquired about summer activities and discussed returning to school next month with parents.

The familiarity wasn’t surprising: Staying in tune with local youth is Kendall’s job as the department’s SRO and the driving force behind events like Monday’s bike helmet giveaway.

“It’s what I do,” Kendall said with a smile.

The week prior, he organized a free Kona Ice giveaway and police meet and greet at two borough locations. While the spring’s COVID-19 quarantine slowed down Kendall’s youth activities, a look through his SRO Facebook page shows the many ways he supports Palmyra’s youngest residents, both in person and virtually.

Cross County Connection’s Safe Routes to School Coordinator Latifah Sunkett fits a helmet on Giovanni Spezzano, 9. Giovanni and his brother, Vincent, stopped by Palmyra Borough Hall to take advantage of the bike helmet giveaway organized by the police department and Cross County Connection. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

The recent giveaway was done in partnership with Cross County Connection, which donated all of the day’s helmets. The nonprofit provides transportation solutions for seven South Jersey counties.

At the giveaway, Latifah Sunkett was on hand to fit helmets for the kids. As Cross County Connection’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, Sunkett often works with police departments and schools throughout the nonprofit’s coverage area to educate students in kindergarten through eighth grade on the importance of safe bicycling and walking.

Families, parents and grandparents stopped by throughout the hour-long event, choosing from the variety of colored helmets and selecting other freebies, such as bike lights and pedometers.

Diana Patterson picked up a helmet for her granddaughter. She was happy to see the outreach for local children.

“I think it’s awesome,” Patterson said. “They’re keeping the kids safe. The more kids who wear them, the better.”

Lenora Best, who also took advantage of the giveaway, echoed Patterson’s thoughts.

“I think this is actually a great giveaway,” Best noted. “This is a good area to ride your bikes. To get a free helmet – it’s a blessing.”

From left, Brayden Minnix, 14, Steven Peltz, 13, Mackenzie Peltz, 9, and TJ Peltz, 11, hold the helmets they received at the giveaway coordinated by nonprofit Cross County Connection and the Palmyra Police Department. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)