Shop with a Cop helped approximately 325 Edgar County children get coats and other winter clothing in 2018.
“We anticipated about 400 but not everybody showed up,” said Melissa Garner, administrative assistant at the Paris Police Department.
Police Chief Eric Brown said the number of children participating in the program has consistently remained between 300 and 350 for the last four or five years.
The numbers may fluctuate somewhat each year, but what does not change is an ongoing need to help some families provide for their children.
The chief encountered a youth last year who remembered Brown as his shopping partner from about six years ago. The young man expressed how much the experience meant to him at the time and since then.
“They are appreciative of it,” Brown said of the young people selected by all Edgar County schools to participate in the shopping trip.
The chief noted the event not only helps the kids obtain needed items, but it also gives them an opportunity to interact with officers in a non-threatening way. He said another benefit is building community involvement since there are not enough Paris police officers to individually shop with each child.
As a result sheriff deputies, officers from other local departments, probation officers, staff from the Department of Children and Family Services, firefighters, medical responders, elected officials, members of the Lions Club, Elks and Kiwanis also participate, as do high school Key Club members and students from the Mayo Leadership program.
“It gets everybody working together,” said Brown. “You don’t see that a lot, but it works this time of the year.”
Both Brown and Garner stressed many volunteers are needed 7 a.m. Dec. 14 at the Paris Wal-Mart to serve the line of waiting children and adults. The line snakes through the aisles waiting to get to the starting point where the youngsters are paired with adult volunteers for shopping.
“It’s going to be the one date,” said Garner. “There won’t be a makeup date.”
Other volunteers also help in unique ways. Organizers credit Bradley Totten for sponsoring a Shop with a Cop car show that is a major fundraiser for the event.
Another volunteer prepares a free breakfast for all of the volunteers to enjoy after the last child has checked out.
Shop with a Cop is a simple premise. Teachers and other school officials intimately familiar with students supply the police department with names of children, who for a variety of reasons, may need extra help. Those families are invited to shop with a police officer who can help the youths make decisions about what to buy and keep track of each person’s spending budget.
Garner said every school age child has a spending amount of $125 and $100 is provided for any sibling in the home that is not school age. The family is allowed to purchase one package of disposable diapers for a young one that is not potty trained.
At the checkout, the clerks take steps to make sure the purchased goods are marked in a way to identify them as a Shop with a Cop item so parents cannot return them later for cash refunds. Once purchased, the coats, hats, shoes, gloves and other garments are for the child.
To supply that amount of money requires backers of Shop with a Cop to raise between $35,000 and $45,000 each year.
“I have faith in the community. They will come through for us,” said Garner.
Shop with a Cop is currently accepting financial donations for this year but the program willingly accepts donations all year. Gifts provided after Dec. 14 will go to the 2020 shopping event.
Garner said donating is easy. People can call the police department, 465-6351, and an officer will stop at a home or business to get a check. Donors can come by the police station at 211 West Washington or mail a check to the same address.
All checks must be made payable to the Paris Police Association.
While Garner and Brown can’t make a promise at this time, they are working hard to arrange for Santa Claus to make a stop at Shop with a Cop.