If seeing children smile with joy makes you smile too, then you’re in for a treat with this story. Every holiday season, police departments around the country sponsor what’s called Shop With A Cop, a day when police officers take underprivleged children from their communities shopping and help them choose gifts for themselves and their families. You’ll get a better feel for how this wonderful program works, and why police do it, by reading what some departments around the country are doing this year.
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL
For the police in Port St. Lucie, FL, this is their 14th annual Shop With a Cop event. Each family was paired with a police officer and given a $100 gift card to spend at the local Target. The cards are funded by local donations and a grant from Target. “It’s my first year with the department, so it’s my first year doing this,” crime prevention specialist Gretchen Raziela told TCPalm.com.
“It’s been wonderful. I’ve had the best time!” — Port St. Lucie Officer Gretchen Raziela
SAN JOSE, CA
Police in San Jose had a huge turnout for their event this year. 200 children from six elementary schools showed up for the department’s shopping spree, some of them impacted by the deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July. The day started with breakfast, then a trip to Target where the kids were greeted by rows of officers and Giants and 49er’s team mascots:
(Video: San Jose Police Department Twitter)
“It’s a wonderful experience. I’ve been doing this for the last five years and I enjoy coming back every single year. It’s a great opportunity to connect with a child today,” San Jose police officer Monica De La Zerda told ABC7.
Members of the Metropolitan Police Department paired up with 100 kids to shop at Walmart in Northeast DC. The kids get $100 to spend on toys, games and items for their families. But Chief Peter Newsham says, if a child goes over budget, his officers will often spend more. “The police officers have a tendency to reach into their own pockets, they’re happy to do it, they really are,” Chief Newsham told WJLA. Grants from the Washington D.C. Police Foundation and Walmart fund the event.
TEXARKANA, AR & TX
Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas are “twin” cities just across the border from each other, so it’s only appropriate that they held twin Shop With a Cop events. On the Arkansas side, 130 children teamed up with police and firefighters to shop at Walrmart, and on the Texas side 113 children shopped at Target. They were greeted by a parade of police cars and fire trucks with emergency lights flashing and sirens wailing. “We’re so blessed and thankful to help more kids than ever before,” Sgt. Kristi Bennett told the Texarkana Gazette. Local businesses held fundraisers throughout the year to help cover the cost.
KANSAS CITY, MO
Kansas City police also had a big turnout when more than 200 children came to their Shop With a Cop event. McDonalds and other donors helped cover the $100 budget for each child, and they partnered with local churches, schools and neighborhood groups to find children with the greatest need. 5-year old J-air Thomas was one of them. “I wasn’t able to get him anything this year,” his mother, Beverly Thomas, told KSHB. “He’s still going to have Christmas.” Officer Justin Kirmse, who shopped with J-air, says he hopes the event leaves families with a positive impression of police. “I might see him later on and he’ll remember me from this.”
Creating community goodwill is an important part of why police departments are so devoted to Shop With a Cop events. “For me, it�s important that children see me as not just a police officer, but as a person, a husband, and a father,” writes Beaumont, CA Police Chief Sean Thuilliez in a blog on the National Police Foundation website. Thuillez says meeting people on a personal level is more important than ever in this time of suspicion and hostility against police. “If we as police want to connect with people, we must go and be with them, particularly the young people, because we need to build bonds with them to protect all of our futures.”
What better way to make that happen than by taking children Christmas shopping?
Are you smiling yet? If you’re inspired, check with your local or regional police or sheriff’s department. If they do a Shop With a Cop program see how you can get involved, either by fundraising or volunteering. Help #StartSomethingGood!