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Patch project flooded with support from LEOs

(Oct. 17, 2014) The Worcester County Sheriff’s Department went beyond the call of duty last week to help a 5-year-old with a class project.

Mason Hetherington, a kindergartener at Ocean City Elementary, shows off the more than 100 patches he received from police departments across county, and from as far away as Northern Ireland and the Maldives. (JOSH DAVIS – PHOTO)

Mason Hetherington, a kindergartener at Ocean City Elementary, received a surprise at his Berlin home on Saturday when six police officers showed up on his doorstep bearing gifts.

It started with a playroom brainstorming session on Wednesday night with his mom, Eliza Mason, a teacher at Pocomoke Elementary School.

“I was looking up some stuff on the Internet about hundred-day projects, just kind of looking ahead,” his mother said. “I explained to him that some of the kindergarten teachers will do projects like 100 jelly beans on a poster board, because 100 is a big number for a kindergartener. They would talk about what they would be when they’re 100 years old, or what they would spend $100 on. So we started talking about the different projects.”

In one post, a kindergartener collected 100 firefighter patches. Suddenly, a light bulb went off.

“He said, ‘What about police patches?’ I said, ‘That would be cool, but that’s going to be pretty hard to get,’” his mother said. “My boyfriend, Tom Burt, is a Salisbury police officer, so he … got him one of his patches and said, ‘This is what they are. Is this what you want to do?’ And he thought they were really cool, so we decided to try and collect them.”

The next morning his mother set up a post office box, made a poster and took to Facebook in an attempt to solicit 100 patches.

“The next morning, we had 420 shares when we woke up,” his mother said. “I went by the post office box a day later not expecting anything to be in it because it had only been a day, and there was already a note that said, ‘This is too much to put in the post office box.’”

The Easton Police Department sent a care package with more than 30 patches, but it didn’t stop there.

“After the first day he had 40 patches,” his mother said.

That night, Michael Hickman from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department contacted the family with more good news for Mason.

“He said that Sheriff Reggie Mason wanted to contribute some of his collection, because he had a bunch from Canada and he wanted to drop them off,” his mother said. “He said, ‘I’m going to drop them off and I’m going to bring a friend if that’s okay.’ I thought it might be a police dog or something like that.”

When the family opened the door, six police cars had pulled into the driveway.

Six police officers surprised 5-year-old Mason Hetherington at his Berlin home to help him with a school project. (SUBMITTED IMAGE)

Mason was speechless.

“They came down the lane with full lights and sirens on, and then they all got out and stood in a circle,” his mother said. “I said, ‘Go shake their hand and tell them thank you for coming,’ and as we shook their hand, they each took three patches out of their uniform and gave it to him, which was so sweet. They let him hang out with them for a few minutes and turn on the lights and the radar and everything. Mason had baked them some cookies while we were waiting, and luckily we baked them a lot because we were only expecting one officer and we got six.

“It was just awesome,” his mother continued. “They were so into it and so genuine. You could tell no one made them do it.”

The officers also donated a sign that read, “Mason for Sheriff.”

Mason collected more than 20 patches that day. As of press time, he has more than 150, and the Facebook page has more than 1,300 shares.

Mason’s favorite patch came from Hickman.

“He said, ‘If you are being bad, mommy will have to call me and I’m going to take it back,’’’ Mason said.

“He told him that patch was very special. He said, ‘If you’re being good, you can keep it, but if you’re being bad, mommy is going to call me.’”

Mason’s favorite part, he said, was when “they gave me the sign.”

Patches have come from as far as Northern Ireland and the Maldives.

“He got a bunch from Key West, Alaska – it’s crazy,” his mother said. “The amazing thing is the letters are so sweet. These officers are like, ‘Listen to your mom,’ ‘Keep staying in school,’ everybody is putting so much effort into it, it’s amazing.”

Police patches identify each agency, but they also often tell stories about each department, as well as the area they come from. The Salisbury patch, for instance, has the city’s birthdate along with images of the Wicomico River and Salisbury University.

Different divisions also have different patches, including K-9 units, a particular favorite of Mason.

Burt said he did not have to solicit help from any of his friends in local law enforcement – it all just happened organically.

“I kind of wanted to see how it would go without any prodding,” he said. “Some of these patches are not easy to get, and if you look, some of them came off of people’s shirts. Some of these officers might have sacrificed a shirt or two.”

In one instance, Mason received a patch that an Arizona border patrol agent wore on duty for more than 20 years.

“An FBI agent said he’s donating his whole collection – his wife is making him do it,” his mother said. “It’s just awesome that people are taking the time to do this for him. We have everything from the FBI to one-officer departments, Secret Service, air marshal, you name it. We have everything.”

“Patches are not easy to come by,” Burt said. “They give you enough patches for what you need. If you get five shirts, you get five patches – you don’t get extra patches. And every patch has its own little story of how they became a police officer, what training academy they went to, how long they’ve been with the agency, how they got the patch. Each individual patch is someone’s personal story, so basically we have about 140 stories.”

Five-year-old Mason Hetherington took to Facebook for help with a school project. Just days later, Mason had received more than 150 police patches from across the world. (SUBMITTED IMAGE)

Mason, who wants to keep collecting, has a new goal for the project.

“I want 1,000,” he said. “I’m going to keep on doing it.”

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