Summit County area children go shopping with cops
Year after year, local organizations and individual donors continue to dig deep into their pockets to contribute significant amounts of money to the Fraternal Order of Police’s annual Shop with a Cop event.
And this year was no different.
The event pairs underprivileged children from Summit County and surrounding areas with local law enforcement to provide them and their families with gifts for the holiday season. Recipients are referred to the program through their schools or church organizations.
The morning begins with breakfast and a visit from Santa Claus. It allows the children to get to know the law enforcement officials they will be paired with for the morning.
Officers from the Park City Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, federal agencies, and deputies from Summit County Sheriff’s Office then take participating children to the Walmart in Kimball Junction in their patrol cars with blaring sirens and flashing lights.
Nearly 70 children participated in the event this year. Several more children who weren’t able to attend were still given gift cards. The children were given $150 to spend at Walmart and then, with an officer in tow, they browsed the aisles for gifts for themselves and their families.
Sgt. Rob McKinney, with the Park City Police Department, said the event is only possible with the help of private citizens and businesses which“really step up year after year.” Nearly $20,000 was raised for the event this year.
Donations come from the Park City Realtors Association, Park City Homebuilders Association, Salt Lake City facial plastic surgeon and Parkite Steven Mobley, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City – The Yarrow, and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Utah Properties. Several agents with Berkshire Hathaway also attend the event, usually dressed like elves, to help wrap presents for the children.
“All five of those companies really help make this event what it is,” McKinney said. “We even had four or five people who were shopping in Walmart asking what was going on and they asked to donate. It’s just really cool seeing the community come together to help out this great cause.”
McKinney said the event helps law enforcement build positive relationships with the community. He said the children who are selected have often had unfavorable interactions with officers when they have had to respond to a crisis in the home.
“The ones that break your heart are the ones who have a list of necessities they need like clothes for a big brother or shoes for dad to go to work,” he said. “Those are the unique situations where we try and go above and beyond so they can still buy stuff for themselves.”
McKinney said law enforcement officials volunteer their time to participate in the event, adding “it’s something we choose to do.”
“It is a lot of fun and we hope to continue to do this for years to come,” he said.
Sheriff Justin Martinez said it is one of his favorite events to participate in because it truly represents the meaning of Christmas.
“Those kids were most likely not going to have the best Christmas,” he said. “I think what it means for us, more than anything, is it is an opportunity to give back and reflect on our jobs as law enforcement.”
When Martinez arrived at Walmart with the child he was paired with, he said the first thing she asked to purchase was some cologne for her dad. He said it is always explained to the kids that the event is especially for them to get what they want or need. He said she insisted.
“Then it turned to, ‘I need clothes, pants, shoes and boots,’” he said. “After that the question is always so sheepishly asked, ‘Can I get a toy for myself?’ By and large, it is more of the true Christmas spirit. They put their family first, their needs second and their wants third.”
Martinez said the interactions are always awkward at first. But, by the end of the morning, the officers are sharing high-fives and fist bumps with the children.
“We get to their know families, their needs and their wants in a very short amount of time,” he said. “When we leave, it’s like we came full circle to help support our community. In knowing that their holiday just got a little better and we were able to be a small part of that, I couldn’t ask for a better way to help these children out.”