‘Shop’ in the name of the law!
‘Twas the first big snow of the season Saturday, and all through Park City, not a creature was stirring, not even a … well unless you count 85 children being escorted by a procession of police cars, sirens blaring, to Wal-Mart for the annual "Shop With A Cop" event.
"It would take a lot more than that to call it off," Jim Brown, a deputy for the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Department, said.
Sure Santa had to come in a truck instead of a helicopter because of the weather. But he made it nonetheless.
For more than 20 years, the Park City Police Department has participated in Shop With A Cop, an event that pairs police officers with needy children for a shopping spree at Wal-Mart.
According to Bob Lucking, PCPD sergeant and president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, which organizes the event, donations from businesses and individuals help make the day possible.
The children chosen this year were from Park City, Summit County, Heber and Wasatch County, and were recommended to participate in the event by the Boys & Girls Club, the state division of Child and Family Services, churches and victim advocates.
"A lot of these kids wouldn’t have anything for Christmas if they couldn’t do this," said Norma Bates, whose great grandson, Mitch, was participating in the event.
For Mitch’s grandmother Michelle Bates, Shop With A Cop was a wonderful experience. "Since Mitch found out he was going to get to do this, he’s been counting down the days," she said. "That little guy couldn’t sleep last night he was so excited. It was just like Christmas Eve."
Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans said the officers benefit from it more than the kids. "It takes them out of their element when they get to shop with them," he said.
That was true for Park City Police Department reserve officer Doug Tangren. "This is a guaranteed ‘We’re happy to see you,’" he said. "It’s things like this that make life worthwhile. These are the meaningful things."
Tangren shopped with eight-year-old Ramon Nava who lives in ParkWest Village.
As they were shopping, Nava placed the game Operation in his cart. He then picked up a Spider-Man 3 laptop that teaches math and spelling. At the shelf full of Transformers, he rushed toward them, picking one up. He was told he cannot get both because of the money, so he chose to put the Spider-Man laptop back.
Nava later picked out a Transformers watch, three Hot Wheels, a robotic panda, a MP3 player and the game of Connect 4. "Is that a good Christmas," Tangren asked. Nava says, "Yes."
For Darwin Little, PCPD police officer, that’s what makes Shop With A Cop an incredible experience. "Just to see the smile on these kids’ faces, for me, it gets rid of the void of the hustle and bustle and let’s us realize what Christmas is all about."
Little was paired with seven-year-old Harlequin Caldwell. Sara Caldwell, Harlequin’s mother, who had three children participating in Shop With A Cop ages four to eight, said that the event means a lot to her. "I’m a single mom. I work a graveyard shift," she said. "I was looking at a pretty scarce Christmas."
Caldwell and her children live in Wanship. They visited the store a week before to check out what was there.
For many parents, Shop With A Cop is an amazing gift. This was Augustine Ojeda and his sixth-grade son, Pedro’s, first time doing Shop With A Cop. "It was beautiful," Augustine Ojeda said. "I’m glad for everything, and I’m going to remember this for a long time."
Pedro Ojeda, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday Saturday, said he really liked shopping and meeting Santa. His favorite purchase was a 2008 Raw vs. Smackdown wrestling game. He also got gifts for his two brothers.
Buying presents for their family members is quite common said Claire Marlan, Evan’s administrative assistant, who volunteers wrapping gifts. "They buy for themselves, their brothers and sisters," she said. "Their generosity is amazing."
Jana Brown, and her husband Jim have been doing Shop With A Cop for several years, and she said she sees the same thing. "I come and try and help the kids choose what they want," she said. "But many of them are more concerned with getting stuff for their families than themselves."
Jana Brown was helping first-grader, Gabby Silva, pick out toys on Saturday. The excitement on Silva’s face was palpable.
"I’m really happy because I like to play with a lot of toys," Silva said. Her favorite toy was a jewelry-making kit.
Toys are one of the things that Wal-Mart has to really stock up on, said Tia Cline, manager of toys at the store. "We just have to fill everything up to the risers (top of the shelves), so that if things sell out, we can bring more down from the top right away." Cline said some of the top-selling items are bikes, Barbies and remote-controlled cars.
After the kids have picked out their goodies, there is an aisle of volunteers like Marlan, who are waiting to wrap up the gifts. "As soon as they all get through, it can get pretty wild sometimes," she said. "One year this little girl really got her money’s worth. I swear, I wrapped for her for about an hour."
Lara Lyn Hirzel, a seventh grader from North Summit Middle School, said she and her family have been volunteering for Shop With A Cop for years. "Everybody kind of comes at once," she said about wrapping the presents.
And it’s not just that volunteers wrap a lot, it’s also that they wrap just about everything. "There’s so many people that come at once and they want the craziest things wrapped," said volunteer Hannah Winkelman, a junior at Park City High School. "Last year a girl brought in a bike to wrap."
Winkelman, along with Kelsey Reynolds, a Park City sophomore, and Kelly McClelland, a Park City senior, volunteered together as one of their service projects for Interact, a club at the high school.
As Interact’s communication chair, Winkelman organized the project. "It was so cute to see the kids at breakfast with their families," she said.
"And to see them with the cops," Reynolds added.
The relationship with police officers that an event like this can build is essential, Norma Bates said. "It shows kids that they don’t need to be afraid of cops."
This experience may impact the kids and their behavior and attitude toward police officers someday, said Doug Tangren. "These children are the future. You never know what little influence you will have."
"It just gives you cold chills," Wal-Mart sales associate Linda Staley said. And she wasn’t talking about the weather.
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No other vehicles were involved in the accident, which occurred on the interchange between U.S. 40 and Interstate 80.