Law enforcement officials help spread holiday cheer for kids in Summit County
The Walmart in Kimball Junction was teeming with law enforcement officials from various local, state and federal agencies on Saturday as they helped spread holiday cheer for underprivileged children in Summit County.
Andrea Haight, with the Utah Department of Corrections’ Adult Probation and Parole, let 9-year-old Diane Gomez lead her around the store as Gomez excitedly browsed the aisles for presents for herself.
Gomez willingly described the items she had placed in the shopping cart to anyone who would listen. She especially enjoyed showing off the Pomsies plush toy, which she has “always wanted.”
Gomez spent Saturday morning with Haight as part of the Park City Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police’s annual Shop with a Cop event, which provides children and their families with gifts for the holiday season. The children were paired with officers from the Park City Police Department, Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Utah Highway Patrol, Division of Wildlife Resources, Kamas City Police, U.S. Forest Service, and other state and federal agencies.
More than 65 children were each given $150 to purchase items at Walmart. Those who are unable to go shopping were given gift cards. Recipients are referred to the program through their schools or church organizations.
The morning started out with breakfast and a visit from Santa Claus before the children were taken to Walmart in the officers’ patrol vehicles, with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Officers followed the kids around as they selected presents for themselves and their families. Bicycles, sporting goods items, toys and winter clothing were among the items the children commonly picked.
Lizbeth Benegas, 7, took a different approach to her shopping. When she and Sgt. Tim Berger, with the Sheriff’s Office, grabbed their shopping cart, she immediately led him to a shelf in the toy aisle where she had set aside several items the night before.
“I hid them,” she said with a shy laugh.
Berger said he has been participating in the event for more than 10 years and had never been paired with a child who pre-selected their presents. As he helped Benegas show off her purchases, he beamed wth pleasure knowing how excited she was that her plan worked.
“It’s little girls like that that keeping me coming back,” he said. “But, this year was a lot easier than it usually is. It was awesome.”
Alma Corona attended the event with her two boys, Christopher, 12, and Dylan, 7. Corona said she recently heard about the opportunity and decided to sign up her family, not sure if they would be selected.
“It’s the first time, but it was really good,” she said. “I really appreciate the fact that they were chosen. I don’t know how they were. But, I think it’s a really good thing that they are doing and it’s great for my boys.”
Bryan Talbot, an agent with the Utah Department of Corrections Adult Probation and Parole who was paired with the Corona family, said it was his first year participating in the event. He said he signed up because it would provide him with an opportunity to see a different side of law enforcement.
“We see the criminal side a lot and we see the worst of people,” he said. “This helps us give back to the community in a totally different way than what we do on a daily basis. The kids were shy at first, but they warmed up and found the excitement after we got to the store.”
The families that participated in Shop with a Cop were from diverse backgrounds and spoke different languages. Certain officers or accompanying relatives were able to translate for the non-English speaking participants.
Lt. Andrew Wright, with the Sheriff’s Office, said the event helps provide a large number of children in the community with assistance. But, more importantly, it helps families experience the holidays like they may not otherwise have been able to.
“We always have more people in need than we have resources available,” he said. “But, understanding our limited donations, we are still able to provide that cheer and happiness. It is always our favorite time of the year.”
Wright said it is not often that law enforcement officers are able to interact with children in the community like they are during the Shop with a Cop event.
“It is that opportunity to show our emotional or softer side of being a human being. We are law enforcement officers, but at the end of the day we are husbands, fathers, wives and moms,” he said. “It is my favorite event of the year because of the love and that happiness and positive interaction that we have with the children and their families. I’ve seen parents weep when they come to pick up their children from the overwhelming amount of joy and gratitude they have.”
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