There is nothing more heartwarming than witnessing a child grin from ear to ear with absolute joy. And there’s nothing more satisfying then being the cause of a child’s joy. On Saturday, the Laramie Police Department partnered with the UW Police, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Albany County Sherriff’s Office and the Albany County School District No. 1 to launch Laramie’s very first Shop With A Cop program — and the smiles shined bright.
Twenty-eight children participated in the event hosted at Walmart. Each child was assigned an officer who picked them up after school and gifted them a $100 gift card to spend however they wanted.
“My wife and I [have done] foster care for about 25 years; we’ve had about 220 kids through our house, and you know we just like helping kids, and this helps,” Laramie Police Department Officer Kevin Lundahl said as he watched his child choose between an assortment of Hot Wheels.
Many of the children were overjoyed and slightly overwhelmed deciding which items to purchase for themselves or for loved ones. Some carts were filled with Nerf Guns and Super Mario Legos while others had holiday dresses and candied sweets.
“It surprises me, ‘cause then it makes you think of how expensive toys were when you were a kid,” LPD Officer Woods said, adding you wish you can get them everything.
One girl, May, eight-years-old, embodied the true meaning of Christmas and told her officer she didn’t need anything for herself. She filled her cart with gifts for family and friends — even her babysitter — and waited in line holding a plush sloth toy after her officer convinced her to pick something for herself.
“I get to give presents and get them and spend time with my family,” she said when asked why Christmas was her favorite holiday.
Many of the officers held their phones in their hands, calculating and guiding the children through the budgeting process.
After each child checked out with their officer, some making last minute decisions about merchandise, another surprise awaited them in the parking lot.
In addition to the $100 gift card and one-on-one shopping spree with an officer, each child received a holiday-wrapped gift from the Highway Patrol team and a turkey dinner provided by the Hilton to share with their families.
“They have no idea,” LPD Assistant Police Chief Robert Terry said as his Santa hat swayed gaily above an obvious grin beneath is face mask.
“The Wyoming Highway Patrol Foundation provided additional money for [individual gifts] for each kid,” Terry said.
To make it extra special, Terry had an officer wrap all the gifts while she was on maternity leave.
“I feel great. It’s an amazing feeling watching all my officers and other officers come together with these kids, and making their day,” Terry said, “you can’t see their smiles but, you can tell they’re smiling underneath those masks.”
He hopes every child goes home with a positive memory to cherish forever, and to remember that cops are there to help. Part of the Shop With A Cop agenda is to create an early bond with youths and destigmatize the cop/community relationship. Many of the officers commented they want the kids to know law enforcement officers are human, too, and want strong healthy relationships with them.
In the end, the officers had just as much fun as the kids.
“I think this is a really good thing to help kids that are at risk, and also help bring the community together a little bit more,” LPD Officer Troy Glick commented. His mindset was centered on community policing in response to the recent events in Laramie and across the nation.
“It’s good to show … the kids who are very malleable that we’re not this big, scary monster.”
The generosity of community members and police entities combined creates a platform upon which a child in need can stand happily on during the holidays.
This year’s event was in part sponsored by Walmart, who pledged $4,000 to the cause and provided side dishes for all the turkey dinners.
Any remaining funds will be split between retention for next year’s program and the school district to help pay for meals.
About Shop With A Cop
The Shop With A Cop program started in 2004 when a police officer, Louis Kloepper, raised money and took 15 children on a breakfast and shopping trip.