Santa Claus came to town early Saturday morning for a very special event as the Newton Police Department hosted its annual Shop with a Cop program to help a group of local children shop for presents at Newton Walmart.
The NPD partners with United Way of Jasper County to help identify the children and HIRTA to help transports shoppers and officers to the store. The cops volunteered their time to escort a child through Walmart on their gift adventure.
The HIRTA buses pulled into the Walmart parking lot and everyone excitedly offloaded and came through the doors. There were plenty of officers to push carts and grab items off the high shelves where their companions couldn’t reach.
“I think it is great. The only reason we are not actually with kids this year is because we had so many officers volunteer to do it. That really helps us out as far as putting it together,” organizer of Shop with a Cop Sgt. Jon Schuler said.
Co-organizer, SRO Julie Britton added, “I’ll talk to kids in the school and they will tell me ‘hey you remember I did Shop with a Cop that one year and I was partnered with you or I was on the same bus as you’ so it’s really nice that the kids hold on to this memory.”
The kids were paired up with their officers and began discussing their game plans on who they were shopping for and what they wanted to get. Some went to the toy aisles first while others were searching for clothes or other items.
“Most of them have a plan that they have thought about ... Most of the time when we take kids shopping they want to spend money on their family before they want to spend money on themselves,” Britton said.
Officers flooded the aisles of Walmart, smiling alongside their little shoppers as they took the time to check items off of the children’s lists.
“This is my first time ... It is really cool to give back to the kids. They are just as excited as we are,” public safety officer Dustin Brisel said.
Sgt. Dillon Lavely added, “It’s super fun. They get to obviously experience things that they don’t always get to do. It’s fun to just go spend a day, hang out with kids and help them eat pizza and do a little shopping.”
While the main focus was for the officers to take the children shopping and to the Masonic Lodge to wrap their presents together and enjoy in some food while also meeting Santa, the underlying principal was building relationships between law enforcement and kids.
“We want kids to associate positive things with law enforcement. We always want them to run to us if there is a problem not run away from us per say. So we want that positive relationship with the kids and to let them know that there somebody is out there rooting for them,” Britton said.
According to Schuler, this year Walmart decided they would also include a $25 gift card for the families so they could come back and get Christmas dinner from Walmart.
“We did a holiday dinner gift card to help put food on the tables for the families,” Walmart store manage Erin Heim said.
The partnerships with the Masonic Lodge, Walmart, United Way of Jasper County, Pizza Ranch, HIRTA and the various donations received throughout the year are what makes the Shop with a Cop event possible for these children in Jasper County.
“That’s what Christmas is all about is to see people happy, see families happy. So this is a pretty cool event each year that the police department puts on,” Brisel said.
Contact Dustin Teays at 641-792-3121 ext. 6533 or firstname.lastname@example.org