Chester couple wants to buy police some bulletproof vests

Fort Lawn Police Chief Richard Smith holds his personal vest Thursday that he wore while serving in Iraq.
Fort Lawn Police Chief Richard Smith holds his personal vest Thursday that he wore while serving in Iraq.

CHESTER -- Tom and Gloria Kellerhals need $934 and a quarter to prove Gloria right and Tom pleasantly wrong.

Last month, the Chester County couple set out to raise $12,000 to buy bulletproof vests for the county's police officers after one of their employees at the Westmintser Group asked for an advance on her commissions so she could buy a vest for her deputy husband.

Tom Kellherhals figured they'd collect around seven or eight grand between June 15 and their Saturday deadline, but his wife was more optimistic.

She also was right.

On Thursday, they received a check from Chester Regional Medical Center for $1,000, lifting donations to $11,065.75. With several hundred dollars in commitments and a fundraiser set for Saturday night, the couple should hit their target figure.

"I didn't think we could do it," Tom Kellerhals said. "I'm delighted to tell you that I was wrong."

The money has come from a variety of sources. The hospital and the local public defender's office made the largest donations at $1,000 apiece.

But restaurants, businesses and concerned residents also chipped in, including a Chester deputy's mother who collected $800 Saturday from a bake sale she held at Wal-Mart.

All of this so the folks charged with protecting the county can have some protection for themselves.

"I think it's a cause that's easy to come together on," Tom Kellerhals said. "Who's going to say 'no' to this?"

A major problem for police is that their vests only last about five years. For smaller departments, the extra armor is a luxury.

The $12,000 will be divided among the county's four law enforcement agencies. The Kellerhals hope to get additional help from Invest USA, a Columbia-based nonprofit organization that assists police departments in buying protective vests.

The drive will be capped off Saturday with a "Vest-i-val," a free bluegrass concert in the vacant lot beside Kimbrell's in downtown Chester.