“For example, the kids might have enough to get a handheld game system but it’s not enough to get a game. So the troopers themselves will donate $20 or $30, so they can pick a game.” Wal-Mart patrons also often get in the spirit by contributing toward the program after seeing the kids in the store. “It reaches out to everyone—even to the people in the store that day,” McGuire explains.
Electronics are not the main thing kids are after during their shopping excursion. “Most of the kids buy presents for their families,” states McGuire. They also focus on their needs. “Some of their parents instruct them [to buy things] like tennis shoes or some jeans,” explains McGuire. “After these needed items, they tell them with what’s left you can buy some toys. Some are used to only getting used or hand-me-down toys.”
Shop with a Cop helps meet some of the material needs of the family, but the benefits don’t end there. “It helps them emotionally because their family is in a down time and it gets through to them that police officers are human and are just like everyone else. We can laugh. We can hug. It says to them, you can trust me. Those are things you can’t measure. Those are the intangible things.”
Filling the need
Now in its fourth year, the program has about 50 officers participating. Many donate their time by coming back in to the station, putting on their uniforms and making a difference in the lives of the sponsored children, their families and their community.
But even with all the internal support, Shop with a Cop’s biggest need is not financial but manpower. “Someone could say they wanted to donate $10,000 but I probably couldn’t get enough troopers for the program—we’re not that big.”
Even for a small program, the positive impact on the community is immense. “It provides the spirit of giving, the spirit of the holidays,” McGuire states. The positive response is tremendous as well. “I get hugs the day of the event,” says McGuire. “I get thank you letters and cards. I get letters from the parents thanking us. Sometimes we get letters from other guardians, such as foster parents thanking us.” Like Kops and Kids, Shop with a Cop’s reach in the community is meeting the goal of creating a positive interaction between kids and their local officers—an interaction that will last a lifetime.
Too often children only get to see officers in their protecting role and doing the negative work these proud men and women have sworn to do to keep our communities safe. What the kids don’t often get to see is these heroes laughing and talking, shopping and fishing. The opportunity to be a positive role model is often lost because the only time a child sees officers is when something bad is happing. Thanks to Kops and Kids, Shop with a Cop and similar programs throughout the country, law enforcement agencies are helping solve this.
“I’d like to see more programs like this out there,” states Williams. “If we don’t touch the kids early, we’ll lose them later on. We’ve got to do it when they’re young.”
Michelle Perin is a freelance writer who worked as a police telecommunications operator with the Phoenix PD for eight years. For more information visit www.thewritinghand.net.