Shop with a Cop pairs officers, needy children for Christmas gift buying
The image of law-enforcement officers has taken some serious hits recently on the national level, but a seasonal program could reverse that perception locally.
Shop with a Cop on Saturday, Dec. 20, paired 18 needy local youngsters with law-enforcement officers from throughout Ozaukee County.
Children ranging in age from 4 to 17 went on a two-hour shopping spree at the Saukville Walmart, selecting Christmas gifts for family members, friends and even themselves.
Each child was given $100 to spend.
Funding for the holiday event was provided by Walmart, Pepsi and the Saukville Police Department.
Milanna’s Bakery paid for a catered breakfast and added a sweet touch with several large Christmas cakes.
The program was organized by Saukville Police Officer Emily Neese, who also coordinates the countywide National Night Out observance every summer.
“I guess the word has gotten out that I am pretty good at organizing things,” Neese said.
In addition to Saukville, the event involved officers from Port Washington, Cedarburg and Mequon, as well as the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The day started at the Saukville Police Station with the youngsters enjoying a breakfast of doughnuts and juice with their officers.
They then headed to the local Walmart store, riding in a convoy of squad cars.
“The officers were available to offer some shopping help and guidance,” Neese said.
“Ultimately, the goal of the program is to open eyes to the possibility of police officers being a friend, someone young people can count on.”
Once the gifts were selected, police support staff members helped gift wrap items at the store.
When the shopping trip was completed, the patrol cars were transformed into gift-laden sleighs and returned to the police station, where a gift exchange was held.
The youngsters who took part in the shopping spree were nominated by various county agencies and school districts.
“I think the kids had a blast,” Neese said.
“Some were very thoughtful and came prepared with sizes and ideas. Some, well, not so much.”
Neese said the attitudes of the children underwent a dramatic transformation during the action-packed day.
“They all came in so timid, even the older kids. We had a few parents stay for breakfast and settle some nerves, but by the end I think everyone was happy and comfortable. Everyone left with a smile on their face,” she said.
“I had so many ‘thank yous’ from officers as well. We were so happy to have so many officers participate on a busy Saturday before Christmas, yet all of them seemed truly thankful for the opportunity.”
In addition to polishing the image of law-enforcement officers, Neese said the program’s goal was to put the holidays in a different light for the youngsters.
“We thought it was very important that every child received a gift themselves as well as buying for others,” she said.
The children also picked names from those participating in the program to buy gifts for.
“It’s never too early or too late to teach about healthy giving,” Neese said.
“It was wonderful to see the kids really thinking about what the other kids would like and then watching them open the presents they had given each other.”
Neese said the day was filled with its share of light moments.
“My favorite story was from Officer Jake Schiller of the Mequon Police Department. I paired him with a 4-year-old and the little boy kept Officer Schiller on his toes,” Neese said.
“Afterwards, he said he hasn’t been on a foot pursuit in a while, but he was sure running after that little guy.”
Another officer had to intervene when the child he was matched with wanted to buy an R-rated DVD and was told he was not old enough to purchase the movie.
And then there was the lesson in tasteful gifting.
“One child said she wanted to buy her dad some deodorant for Christmas. I think the deputy helped her pick out a nice gift pack instead of poor dad having to open a big box of deodorant on Christmas morning,” Neese said.
Image information: SHOP WITH A COP matched law-enforcement officers with needy children. Above, Saukville Officer Brad Grams helped Hailee Sullivan find gifts at Walmart. Photos by Sam Arendt