Shop with a Cop

December 1, 2012 | By More

Christmas is a happy time for most children in the River Valley… but for needy children who often go without presents and parties, Christmas can be a time of disappointment.

Sadly, continued disappointment throughout a child’s formative years can lead to frustration, anger and criminal behavior later in life. So in the mid 1990’s, the Russellville Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P) decided to give these children hope again by starting a local Shop with a Cop program; a national program that helps build positive relationships between police officers, local children and their families.

The program has been a great success on many fronts. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, kids that have good relationships with the police are less likely to get into trouble with the law. Plus, the children get something tangible to look forward to, while their families can feel secure knowing this will be a good Christmas after all.

The Russellville F.O.P. Lodge 54 has been participating in the program for the children for more than 16 years now, said Lieutenant Keith Spears of the Russellville Police Department.

“We generally have around 8 to 12 officers show up to assist the children. If there is more than one child in the family, then the officer will do the shopping with both siblings at the same time. We give approximately $125 (not including tax) for each child to spend on whatever they want [within reason]. It’s their Christmas, so it is pretty much their choice on what they want,” said Spears.

This year’s event will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Russellville Wal-Mart Garden Center and around 25 children from the ages of 5 to 12 years along with their families will attend, explained. Spears, who with Patrolman Blake Bradley are heading up the F.O.P. event this year.

Participating children are selected through the Salvation Army located on Weir Road. The parents have to register the family and that registry is shared among the local charitable groups that help at Christmas time.

“There were a couple of years that we did food baskets for other families as well, but the manpower and funding were greater in previous years. We have consistently promoted the shopping program when others were ceased, and hope to continue it for years to come. The Russellville Police Department and staff have been very supportive to our efforts, along with City Hall.

This is a combined “win win” for everybody in our community…because without their support, it wouldn’t happen,” said Spears.

Local support is an important aspect of this program, said Spears.

“We have Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart Foundation) and Bridgestone Americas Trust Fund as major donors that contribute greatly to our program. Every year, we also have citizens come into the police department and want to give us money for the program. Because of this, I usually come in to find envelopes stuffed with checks on my desk from local citizens or silent Santas.

Russellville residents are good natured, caring people who want everybody in their community to feel appreciated and well taken care of. This year we did hire a company called Hines Enterprises to assist us with phone solicitations in our community. We haven’t done this soliciting since 2008, but have depleted our funds for the program,” said Spears.

So, why have such a happy family event at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Most of the men that help with the children have worked all night or are just getting started to work for their 12-hour shift, said Spears.

Fortunately, Wal-Mart usually has donuts, cookies, coffee and hot cocoa set up for the families, officers and children,” he added. The store also dedicates two associates that assist the officers and children with their own checkout for the duration of the shopping event.

Officers who participate in the program oftengetmorebackthantheygive,intermsof a positive community experience, said Spears.

“Last year I had a seven-year old boy who was with his mother. This young man knew what he wanted and had himself a game plan for shopping in the store. We went in with his mother and a shopping cart from the Garden Center area and I more or less just followed him. He talked as fast as he walked and never missed a beat. We went directly into the children’s clothing and he started looking at jeans and long-sleeve shirts, then he proceeded to the next aisle for pajamas. He asked his mother for size assurance before placing the clothing into the cart, and told me every price as I kept up with a running total for his $125 limit.

This gentleman was a thrifty shopper, even going into the mark down racks to see if he could find something in his size range. After collecting around eight items of clothing and a marked-down coat, he looked to his mother for her permission to go towards the toys section. This young man was on a mission, and knew exactly what he was after. We went into the section of car toys and he selected a Transformers Bumble Bee Camaro that changed into the “good guy” as he called it. After that was carefully placed into the cart, he asked where we were at with his total purchase.

I looked at my calculator and stated that he was such a good shopper; he still had around $45 left to get to the $125. Without any hesitation, he turned to his mom and asked if she would help him get clothes for his older sister. His mother stated that his sister was okay, that this was for him, but he was insistent, he had what he wanted for Christmas and wanted to get her something.

This little man almost took me back with what he said, more concerned about his older sister and Christmas for her than himself. The three of us went back to the girls section of clothing and mother assisted him with picking out things his 14-year-old sister needed. This shopping took the most time of his and my Christmas shopping together, but I didn’t mind as his mother was great help (I’ve got two boys) with selecting and sizes. That young man gave me a gift that day of humility and compassion… and my calculator was around $150 when I said we met the limit.”

There’s still time for you to contribute to this year’s Shop with a Cop event, so stop by the Russellville Police Department at 115 West “H” street and leave a gift that will make a local child’s Christmas special.

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