Rose Donlan says she struggles throughout the year in raising her three teenage grandsons as her own.

Rose Donlan says she struggles throughout the year in raising her three teenage grandsons as her own.

But based on the smile spread across her face Friday evening, those hardships were set aside momentarily as Donlan of Independence was able to pick out three Christmas presents for the boys – ages 13, 14 and 15 – and take home plenty of food to cook a large meal for her household of eight people.

Donlan was one of 70 families who received help through the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1’s fourth annual Jesus Others You Project. F.O.P. is the union for the Independence Police Department.

“It’s a way for us to give back to the community, more than we do on a daily basis,” said F.O.P. President and Independence Police Department Sgt. John Howe. “This is the one time of the year that every guy here looks forward to because it’s a positive interaction with the public.”

Members of the F.O.P. Auxiliary, as well as the officers’ children, also volunteered their time in the two-hour event at 18300 E. Missouri 78. In 2008, one Independence police officer, who is still with the department but wishes to remain anonymous, developed the idea for J.O.Y., Howe said.

In its first year, the project helped 12 families.

In 2010, 40 families – an overwhelming majority of which include children – received assistance. Next year, Howe said, he wants J.O.Y. to reach at least 100 families.

This is the first year Donlan took part in the J.O.Y. Project after one of her grandson’s teachers called her and asked if she wanted to receive assistance.

Families are referred to the program by police officers who see their need firsthand or by community members who are aware of the program, or they are nominated by family school liaisons within the Independence School District. Those who receive the help must live in Independence.

“We don’t advertise because the need is so great,” Howe said. “I filled the 70 (slots) this year within seven days. The last couple of days, I’ve had to turn down folks because we didn’t have enough.”

Officers donated the toys. Inside laundry baskets, the recipients each got two turkeys, stuffing, green beans, two pies, jams and other items for an entire Christmas meal.

For the third year, Price Chopper North in Blue Springs has allowed the F.O.P. to purchase the food at cost, without profit markups.

“They make the process wonderful for us,” Howe said.

Staple grocery items like milk and bread, Donlan says, are most challenging for her family.

“I try to make ends meet,” says Donlan, whose single-income household also includes her husband, her 26-year-old daughter and 6-year-old grandson and her daughter’s boyfriend. “(The boys) eat just about anything you put in front of them. We try to make things last as much as possible. Sometimes, we’re down to the nitty-gritty.

“We just try to get by as much as possible,” Donlan says, adding that she usually visits Community Services League monthly for additional help. “They eat a lot.”

She laughed. “I think my older one can take down a gallon of milk in a day – and boy, can he.”

Two of Donlan’s grandsons also suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The toys she selected as their Christmas presents – a dart board, a deck of playing cards and a video pocket arcade game – may have seemed simplistic to some, but Donlan portrayed an attitude of excitement Friday.

“I try to do the best for them, and I want them to have a good life,” she says. “I did what I could (on my own). I wanted them to have some kind of Christmas.

“I couldn’t see them go out in the cold,” Donlan says of her grandsons, who are her son’s children. “I couldn’t see them go with anybody else. My heart’s just not that way.”