Local cops line up to shop with kids in need
Summit and Wasatch County patrol cars overwhelmed Kimball Junction’s Wal-Mart parking lot Saturday morning for the largest ‘Shop with a Cop’ holiday benefit since the annual event began in the mid-1980s.
This year, ‘Shop with a Cop’ helped 80 kids shop for gifts, thanks to monies raised and donated by local police departments, merchants and residents.
Police officer Bob Lucking, president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s local lodge, got to hand out some of that cash at the store registers during the event.
"This is the largest amount of money we’ve raised and the most kids we’ve sponsored in the event’s history," he said.
‘Shop with a Cop’ started at The Yarrow Hotel with a breakfast at 6:30 a.m. From there, kids piled into patrol cars with sirens blaring down State Road 224.
An AirMed helicopter landed in Wal-Mart’s lot shortly thereafter, and Santa Claus stepped out to greet families.
Police then escorted kids and their parents inside the store to begin shopping. Most officers ended up pushing carts, to allow kids the freedom to roam the aisles.
Often, a child’s cartful will exceed the $100 limit, Lucking said, and typically, volunteers will reach for their own checkbooks to cover the added expense.
"One officer gave $59 at the register," Lucking claims. "Families are always over and officers dig into their pockets and they love doing it."
In fact, officers sign up more than a month ahead of time to be able to participate, and typically some wind up observing, according to Lucking there are usually more lawmen than children. This year, 86 officers from Heber City Animal Control, Utah Highway Patrol, Summit County and Wasatch County police departments, attended the event, along with their family members, who helped to wrap presents.
Utah Highway Patrol officer Kris Hendricksen, who shopped with Bailee Van Wagner, 6, says some police made an extra effort to get to ‘Shop with a Cop.’
"Some of these guys work graveyards just to donate a few minutes of time with kids," he said.
Churches, victim advocate programs and schools advise the Fraternal Order of Police about which children should be invited to the event, Lucking explained, and kids can be anywhere from newborns to 17 year-olds.
Hendrikson notes that people usually see the police as scary figures, and this event gives him a chance to change the stereotype.
Kids get a gift card so that they’re allowed to buy anything they want Bailee was off somewhere in the clothing department searching for a shirt and a skirt, her mother said and that’s something that Hendrickson says he appreciates most about the benefit.
"We buy them a Wal-Mart card and kids get something for themselves and it gives them the control to get what they want, which I think is very important," he explained. "These are children whose father or mother might of left, and might not get a good Christmas otherwise."
Hendrickson only wishes he could do more, he says.
"You know, for every kid we help, there’s a kid we don’t get to help," he observed.
Kevin Diaz, who has worked in the Heber City Animal Control department for four years, worked in California previously, and continues to be impressed by the Utah benefit.
"There was nothing like this in California it’s worth it just to see the smiles on kids faces," he said. "And everyone from all of the other departments get to mingle like one big family. It’s very special."
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The Solomon Children’s Justice Center of Summit County has moved into its new home, a space officials hope will provide privacy and support to families experiencing trauma.