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Two local agencies are reading to young children online to help pass the time during governor's Stay Home order.

COURTESY IMAGE - In a video posted to the Hillsboro Police Department's Facebook page, Officer John Canci reads 'Clifford the Big Red Dog.' They say great minds think alike.

Two local police and fire agencies have launched new initiatives aimed at helping young children during the coronavirus pandemic by trying something novel: They're reading children's books.

Hillsboro Police Department and Columbia River Fire & Rescue, which serves the St. Helens, Clatskanie and Rainier areas of Columbia County, launched two new video series on Tuesday, March 31, depicting officers and firefighters reading books to youngsters.

The short videos depict firefighter Patrick Kish reading "The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck" and K-9 Officer John Ganci and dog Jessie reading "Clifford the Big Red Dog."

Eric Bunday, a spokesman with Hillsboro Police, said the two agencies launching storytime videos on the same day was a happy accident, but he wants to see more agencies participate.

"I want to flood social media with first responders taking five minutes to read their favorite story book to kids," he said.

During uncertain times, Bunday said, it can be difficult for families to feel connected.

"This is a time for us to find other ways to build community, when social distancing is here," Bunday said. "But practicing social distancing doesn't mean you have to be distant, socially. You can continue to build community. School children are members of our community and we want to reach out to them, as well."

Hillsboro's videos are available on the agency's Facebook page and will be released daily. Columbia River will upload more videos in the next few days, Motherway said.

Jennifer Motherway, a spokeswoman with Columbia River Fire & Rescue, said she was approached by a local teacher to have firefighters read stories to young children.

"I have three children of my own," Motherway said. "It's super scary out there right now, and there's a lot of fun things circulating online. If we can add to that for families, we're excited to do it."

Columbia River Fire had recently launched a Youtube channel, with videos on hands-only CPR and other life-saving measures.

"I want people to stay connected," Motherway said.

Reading books like "Clifford, the Big Red Dog," or "Curious George" are a simple way to spread a message of community and compassion during uncertain times, Bunday said.

The story times aren't only fun, Bunday said, they help kids learn that police and firefighters are there to help them in a crisis.

"It puts a friendly face to a first responder," Bunday said. "If they ever need help, they might recognize the officer that read them that book. It helps build a relationship."

A handful of other police and fire departments across the country have launched similar video series, including Pierce County, Washington and Dallas, Texas.

Motherway said the outbreak of the coronavirus has helped illustrate the importance of being prepared. She said first responders are here to help everyone get through weeks of self-quarantining.

"You have to just adapt," she said. "We'll get through it, we just have to stay positive."

By Geoff Pursinger
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