Shop with a Cop once again brings smiles to kids’ faces in Summit County
The motorcade arrived at its destination early Saturday morning, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
This wasn’t a fundraiser for a politician or a trip for a glitzy Sundance coterie; when the VIPs stepped out and were taken by their escorts into the store, it was local children matched up with members of several local law enforcement agencies getting set to do some Christmas shopping at Walmart.
The annual Shop with a Cop event, which provides Christmas gifts to children in need, started early Saturday with a breakfast at the Park City Peaks Hotel where the law enforcement members met up with their partner and the pair started to get to know each other over pancakes and what some children said was “really good” apple juice.
Park City Police Sgt. Rob McKinney, who helps organize the event, said the breakfast is one of his favorite parts of the day.
“We don’t want to show up and have it be impersonal,” McKinney said. “We want to get to know them, their family, what they like, what they’re going through.”
From the hotel, the kids and the cops piled into patrol vehicles and hit the lights as they caravanned north to Walmart. The ride was one of the best parts for some of the kids, including 7-year-old Adalid Rueda. He was partnered with Utah Department of Corrections Adult Probation and Parole Senior Agent Chris Roberts, who said he let Adalid run the siren and taught him some code to say on the radio.
“He kept saying Merry Christmas,” Roberts said with a smile. Then, when they arrived, it was “we’re here, we’re here, we’re going shopping!”
Some children made a game plan at breakfast and knew where to go right when they got into the store; others took their time and went aisle to aisle. Adalid was the former, and he and Roberts made a beeline to find Black Panther gloves. The cart eventually started overflowing with Nerf guns and giant stuffed animals.
Each child received $200 to spend, up $50 from last year. The Park City Home Builders Association and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Utah Properties are major donors, McKinney said. Berkshire Hathaway Realtors, their friends and families worked at a present-wrapping station at the front of the store, sporting smiles and Santa hats.
Each family also received a Christmas turkey dinner with all the fixings, McKinney said.
The event is collaboratively put on by the Park City and Summit County Fraternal Orders of Police and features members of both of those agencies, as well as members of the Utah Highway Patrol, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Adult Parole and Probation, Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Wildlife Services.
Trent Jarman, a school resource officer for the Park City Police Department, explained that children are chosen to participate based on recommendations from school administrators and staff, the Summit County Attorney’s Office and the Christian Center of Park City, among other sources. The list generally includes kids who might not be getting much at Christmastime or who have had challenges in the past year.
He said once he gets the list “and checks it twice,” he prints off certificates and gives them to law enforcement officers to hand deliver at home, referring to them as “golden tickets” like those in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
This year, 47 children were chosen, though Jarman said the need is far greater. He added that the program will continue to reach out to needy families with gift cards as the holidays near.
The children can generally get whatever they like — McKinney said they sometimes steer the kids toward more age-appropriate video games and movies — but the officers try to make sure they’re getting some things they want like toys rather than just necessities.
McKinney said that every participant is volunteering their time, and while it’s a sacrifice, it’s worth it.
“It’s one of my, if not my favorite event of the year, because we, unfortunately as law enforcement, see people at their worst when we’re responding to calls for service,” he said. “We (get to) interact with the community and these kids and give back a little bit and put a smile on their faces.”
Back at Walmart, after most of the kids had their gifts wrapped and were back in the service vehicles playing with the sirens and lights, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Jake Neerings and his fifth-grade partner patrolled the aisles.
Neerings said she was in charge and patiently pushed the cart down one aisle after the next. As the last gifts were wrapped for the other participants, Neerings could be heard from a nearby aisle saying optimistically, “Hey, we finally found the socks!”
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The artist from Vineyard who created the mural traveled to Park City again last weekend to repair it, tweak the image and leave a message for the community on the street.