Following the success of the first three years of Shop With a Cop in Chatham, organizers made the bold step of doubling it in size this year.
The annual effort, where a first responder is paired up with a child to go on a $100 shopping spree in Wal-Mart, saw 100 children take part this year, with a like number of police officers, conservation officers, firefighters and paramedics.
Organizer Sgt. Bryan Knowler of the Chatham-Kent OPP said the dramatic increase in the number of participating children led to the addition of the firefighters and paramedics to the event. Canadian Pacific Railway police also took part.
“They all jumped right on board,” Knowler said.
With 100 kids each having $100 to spend, that translates to $10,000 in community donations to make the event a reality. Knowler said it wasn’t a problem adding $5,000 to the event.
“We had fantastic support from the community. A couple of businesses really stepped up,” he said.
This year, the local school boards chose the children who took part.
“We asked the schools from across Chatham-Kent to pick deserving kids this year,” Knowler said. “We have kids from pretty much every school. We thought we’d mix it up this year.”
In the past, Chatham-Kent Children’s Services has chosen the children. Knowler anticipated Shop With a Cop would hook up with that organization again.
Children between the ages of five to 12 took part, purchasing gifts for members of their immediate family, and at least one for themselves.
The purpose of Shop With a Cop is to foster positive relationships between children and law enforcement officers.
Knowler said Wal-Mart, as it has every year Shop With a Cop has taken place in Chatham, was an excellent partner and host.
“The store manager sat on our organizing committee. Their employees contribute to it too,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
Wal-Mart manager Terry Ray said they set up checkouts specifically for the Shop With a Cop participants and increased staffing levels for the morning.
“It’s a great day. You see a lot of smiles on kids’ faces,” he said. “And our staff love it. They talk about it all year long. Some staff even come in on their day off.”
Once the children wrapped up their shopping experience, they boarded two school buses and were taken under full police escort to the John D. Bradley Centre, where volunteers wrapped their gifts while the children enjoyed breakfast.