I am a Meridian Township Police Officer and I have been serving this community for nine years. I first heard about Shop with a Cop approximately five years ago. Due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to participate until 2008. I got the opportunity to help that year and I have helped every year since.
For those of you who don’t know what Shop with a Cop is I will explain. Shop with a Cop is a nationwide volunteer program in which police officers are paired with underprivileged kids to shop for Christmas presents. Volunteers from the police department ask area businesses for donations to the cause. The donated money is then used by the children to purchase Christmas gifts for themselves, their families, and their friends. Children are nominated by the DARE officers at their school, their teachers or principals, or a variety of other ways to shop with a cop. The organizers of the event then choose which children can participate. Care is taken to ensure children do not get chosen two years in a row to make sure everyone gets a chance.
Once a child is nominated, he/she is notified. The child’s parents bring the child to a specific meeting place where he/she is paired with their officer for the day. The child then rides in the police car with their officer from the meeting place to the store. From there the child and the officer go through the store and choose gifts from the shelves. Each child is given a specific dollar amount and the officer is responsible to make sure they keep their shopping within the budget. While shopping, Santa Clause is available for pictures and once they are done lunch is provided. While everyone is eating, volunteers are busy wrapping the presents so the children don’t have to worry about buying wrapping paper or having a recipient see what they are getting for Christmas.
Shop with a Cop was held in Lansing on December 3rd. This year 81 officers from the Lansing area volunteered. Many more dispatchers and family members of officers volunteered to wrap presents and do other jobs. Approximately $20,000 was raised through donations. Each child was given $100 to spend. The Plymouth Congregational Church in Lansing volunteered their facilities to use as a meeting place. Panera Bread donated bagels and other refreshments in the morning. All officers gathered at 8 am at the church to spend a few moments socializing before meeting their kids. These officers varied in age and rank. There were several Chiefs there as well as several officers fresh out of the police academy. Some had worked all night the night prior and had not been to bed yet. None of the officers were compensated for their time by their departments but if you ask any one of them they will tell you they received something much more valuable than money: the opportunity to help someone who really needed it. The opportunity to develop a bond with a young person and make a small difference in their life.
After socializing and filling up on bagels and coffee the officers were introduced to their shopper. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 15 years old. Some kids came with lists, others were totally winging it. The kids were brought to waiting police cars where a caravan of 100 police cars took the kids up Wood Street in Lansing to the WalMart in the Eastwood Towne Center. The kids were allowed to play with the lights and the sirens and got a quick tour of the inside of a police car during the transport.
At Walmart we were greeted by a group of well wishers at the front door. The people cheered as the kids and officers made their way inside and grabbed shopping carts. One can only imagine the chaos that ensues as 81 kids armed with shopping carts and $100 are let loose on a store full of toys! The little girl I was with had a list and a plan which was great. As I looked at her list I realized she did not have anything for herself on the list. She told me it was important she pick things for her family members and friends first. We walked through the store and she chose a sweater for her mother, Matchbox cars for her cousin, socks for her uncle, and by the time we were done she had enough money left over to get herself some Playdough and a digital camera. We had our picture taken with Santa and got a bite to eat at Subway, who had donated party subs and beverages. By the time we were done eating, the volunteers had her presents wrapped and her mother had arrived and was ready to take her home. She gave me a hug and thanked me for shopping with her.
In the past I have heard stories of kids trying to buy cat food because their families can’t afford to pay for it. I have heard of officers asking kids if they decorated their tree only to find out they don’t have a Christmas tree. These same officers have dug into their own pockets to purchase cat food and Christmas trees and many other things. We share smiles and laughs and even a few tears with these kids and love every minute of it. And even though Shop with a Cop was over 3 hours after it started I like to think a few lives were made better in those 180 minutes. I can speak for myself and say I personally treasure that time every year and I am eternally grateful to the people who help make it happen!