With dozens of police officers swarming WalMart early Saturday morning, manager Ann Peck was all smiles – and it wasn’t because of the feeling of security.
She got an up-close glimpse at the area’s finest as they very patiently took about 50 kids on shopping sprees.
It was all part of the second annual Shop With a Cop event, where local officers assisted a select group of children to go on $100 shopping sprees through the store, picking out presents for themselves and family members.
Officers from the local OPP detachment, the Chatham-Kent Police Service and Moraviantown Police Service, as well as Ministry of Natural Resources conservation officers and park wardens took part.
They shopped with children chosen by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Victim Services. It allows some less fortunate children to buy Christmas presents for themselves and their families. They use $100 gift cards, paid for through donations.
Peck said many officers weren’t doing the math in their heads very well as the children went around scooping up toys and placing the in their shopping carts. Often, as the kids checked out, the gifts in the cart topped the $100 limit.
“They (the officers) take money out of their own pockets when a kid has more than the $100 in the cart,” Peck said with a smile. “It’s as perfect as it can be!”
Peck, whose store also hosted the kids and cops last year, said the morning frenzy of fun shows off some very special traits in the officers.
“They care about people. They care about this community,” she said.
OPP Sgt. Brian Knowler, who brought the Shop With a Cop concept with him when he transferred to Chatham-Kent two years ago, said last year’s event had 35 kids. It went over so well, the number swelled to 50 this year.
“We realized we’d have to add some partners,” he said. “We reached out to the MNR. They responded amazingly fast. They jumped right in.”
Knowler said it’s his seventh Shop With a Cop. He first saw the idea in action when he was working out of an OPP detachment near Sault Ste. Marie.
After participating in three there, he brought the idea with him to Caledon when he transferred there, and then on to Chatham-Kent.
“I look forward to this day every year,” he said. “I’ll do it until I retire.”
While Peck said seeing all the officers and children in the store having such a good time is a treat, when they leave in a long line of police vehicles is a particularly special moment.
“The biggest thing that gives me goose bumps is when they leave. The cars all have their lights flashing. These kids must just be having a ball,” she said.
Judging by the smiles on their faces as they hop into the cruisers, she is quite right. Then again, they were off to enjoy some breakfast and a visit from a certain man in a red suit…