Law enforcement officers go shopping with local kids
In a truly heartwarming display of holiday spirit, law enforcement officers accompanied local children Saturday to buy presents and build positive relationships.
The annual Shop with a Cop program is designed to help low-income families buy presents for their kids, while also building trust with officers. It is organized by the Montezuma-Cortez high school student government, and this year 17 kids participated.
“We pick them up in the patrol car, put on the lights, show them we’re here for them then ask them which store they want to go to,” explained Shawn French, a Montezuma County sheriff deputy. “It’s usually Wal-mart.”
Children did not have much to say as they scrambled wide-eyed through the well-stocked toy aisles, concentrating intensely.
“I’m getting some stuff,” managed Aydin Steerman, 8. “But I don’t want to get lost.”
His shopping partner, Cortez Police officer Vern Rucker is standing nearby, and is a face of adult calm amidst the spirited chaos.
“The challenge is if they can’t decide, then we’re here for hours, but it is going well,” he said. “It’s a good program, and gives them a positive experience with law enforcement. Not all kids have that perception because of crime in their family life.”
Multiple lessons are learned as well. Each child has about $100 to spend, a lot for a kid.
“We’re learning math, how to compare prices, if something is practical or not,” said Shane Brinkhoff, a sheriff deputy.
A new bike is “for sure” practical for his charge Garrett Harmon, who wants one “without training wheels.” But the $70 price tag makes Garrett reconsider, deciding instead to upgrade his current ride with cool accessories, including a bike pump.
“He’s the first kid I’ve had who is buying gifts for his brother, his sister, his mom, not just for himself,” admires Brinkhoff. “He’s very giving.”
Loquacious Zelda Moore, 10, is giving officer Rucker an informed, play-by-play account of toy selection and quality, but she suddenly clams up when asked if she is having fun.
“I like it all,” she finally says, adding with typical perplexing kid logic that “the ride was really fun too because there were no computers in the way.”
Parent Stephanie White is especially appreciative of the program.
“It helps us out financially, and establishes good relations with police,” she said. “The kids love it. They have been looking forward to today for weeks.”
Jared Gulisane, a trooper with the Arizona Highway Patrol, traveled up from Kayenta, Ariz., for the kid shopping melee.
“They see one thing, then another. It is good fun,” he said, gently telling AAliyah Weeks, 9, of Towaoc, that she needs to put something back if she wants a kid-sized electronic keyboard. Socks and stickers are sacrificed for the chance at musical greatness.
“I’ll practice – we’re going to Las Vegas for Christmas!” she adds.
Wal-mart manager Ron Knezek is proud of the program, and gives 30 percent off prices during the one-time event to help out struggling families.
“We do what we can to help our neighbors, to help non-profits stretch their budget,” he said. “We’re one of the largest employers, so we have a responsibility to help out the community and disadvantaged kids.”
MCHS student government paid for the charity event with $1,700 they had in their budget.
“We put on the event because we know that some families don’t get much of a Christmas and we wanted to help out,” said Audre Rice, freshman class president. “The kids got what they wanted and had a really good time.”