Group steps in to help St. Louis County Police employees
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Sgt. Craig Kriska remembers holding his breath as he rounded the corner to his block, bracing himself for the sight of his home in flames.
It had the feel of the crime scenes that Kriska has pulled up to during his 15-year career with the St. Louis County Police Department. Caution tape surrounded the scene. Emergency vehicles clogged the road. Radios echoed with commands from various departments.
Except this time it was his house, his family in shock.
A fire that began on his backyard deck consumed the home along the 2800 block of Woodbridge Estates Drive on May 26, leaving him, his wife, their four children, his mother-in-law and three dogs homeless.
Almost immediately, the St. Louis County Police Welfare Association was there to help the family.
“As the firemen were leaving, they were there with a check so we could go out and buy what we needed immediately,” Kriska said. “We got toothbrushes, shampoo and soap for the kids.”
The 52-year-old organization has helped dozens of officers and civilian employees of the department in times of crisis, including three other fires at the homes of officers since November.
The organization is much like the well-known nonprofit Backstoppers, which financially supports families of emergency responders who died in the line of duty. But the Welfare Association assists only St. Louis County Police Department employees — officers and civilians alike. While Backstoppers steps in after a fatality, the Welfare Association steps in whenever police department employees need help.
Now, it’s also an organization facing financial woes after its annual fund-raiser fell short of expectations, said St. Louis County Police Lt. Karl Bulla, who also is an organizer for the Welfare Association.
“We have a golf tournament every year that brings in about $50,000, and this year we only made about $32,000,” he said. “Last year, we gave out $65,000.”
The group’s efforts include giving $100 savings bonds to every baby born to a county police employee, awarding six $1,000 college scholarships annually, placing wreaths at the graves of every officer who has died in the line of duty on the anniversary of their death and planning fund-raisers for officers like Kriska.
The organization, along with the St. Louis County Police Association, has set a benefit concert for Kriska featuring Kim Massie next month.
“It’s been overwhelming how great people have been to us, I can’t say thanks enough,” Kriska said.
Kriska said he was at a basketball tournament in Quincy, Ill., with his youngest son, Nick, 12, when his wife, Karen Kriska, called.
“She said, ‘Our house is on fire!’ and then the phone went dead,” Craig Kriska recalled.
He called his son off the basketball court and raced home. His fellow officers called him on his cellphone to tell him his family was safe.
“I’m just glad everybody got out,” Kriska said.
After the fire, the family moved into a hotel, where they lived until about two weeks ago when they moved into a rental house. They signed a six-month lease are now paying rent in addition to their mortgage.
In the meantime, Kriska expects to rebuild on the same spot.
“We’ll start over,” Kriska said. “We can rebuild.”
Christine Byers covers law enforcement for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
What • The St. Louis County Police Welfare Association along with the St. Louis County Police Association has planned a benefit concert featuring Kim Massie.
When • 6 to 11 p.m. July 20
Where • Royale Orleans, 2801 Telegraph Road
Cost • Tickets are $25 each.
Donations • Can also be made at brownpapertickets.com/event/252602.
Info • Call 314-280-7052 or 314-650-8085.