PARKERSBURG - Area children got a chance to interact Sunday with officers from a number of local law enforcement agencies as they were able to shop together for toys and other holiday gifts.
Around 101 area children had a chance to shop for Christmas toys and more Sunday with the help of officers as part of the Shop With a Cop program held at local Wal-Mart stores.
About 50 children visited the south Parkersburg Wal-Mart, which has been assisting with the holiday gift program, on Sunday evening. The others had gathered earlier in the day at the Vienna Wal-Mart store with the help of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 79, which sponsors the program in Wood County.
Photos by Brett Dunlap
Angel Collins, of Wirt County, shops Sunday at the south Parkersburg Wal-Mart store with State Trooper J.M. Demeyer as part of the annual Shop With a Cop program.
Through funds raised by the FOP and other donations, around 100 at-need children each received a $100 gift card and was able to go shopping with a law enforcement officer to buy something for themselves or for someone else. The officers kept track of the gift card and made sure the child stayed within their budget. A sizable amount of the funding came from the Wal-Mart Community Grant, organizers said.
Locally, the project is done with the cooperation of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which coordinates the names of the participating children. Some of the children are in need, others are housed at a domestic violence shelter and some may have had bad dealings with the police in the past, said Laurea Ellis, Social Service Coordinator with the WVDHHR.
"It is a good concept for kids to be able to see police officers in a friendly way," she said. "We want our kids, if they are in trouble, to seek out law enforcement.
"Here, they get to see them in a very friendly atmosphere," she said of Sunday's shopping trip. "Hopefully, they will build a rapport with the police officer."
The law enforcement agencies work hard to raise the $10,000-$15,000 every year to do the Shop With a Cop program, said Chris Morehead, president of FOP Lodge 79. Wal-Mart also contributes financially and with the use of their stores, he added.
"We all come together and make sure these kids have a good Christmas," he said. "It is a lot of people coming together to take care of kids at Christmas time."
There were around 25 officers participating in Sunday night's shopping, representing the Parkersburg Police Department, the Vienna Police Department, the Wood County Sheriff's Department, the West Virginia State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Corrections.
"All of the officers here are here voluntarily," Morehead said. "They don't get paid to be here. They donate their own time.
"It is just a rewarding experience. I think everyone who is in police work got in it to help the community. What is more important than kids at Christmas time? That is why we do it," he said.
Many of the officers have done it annually every year and are always excited to do it again. The generosity of the community in donating to the program every year is touching, Morehead said.
"These are hard economic times," he said. "People don't have a lot to give, but they still give to make sure these kids have something for Christmas."
Those who participated were thankful for the chance to participate and to the officers for giving of themselves.
Randy and Pam Robinson, of Wirt County, watched as family member Angel Collins shopped with State Trooper J.M. Demeyer.
"I love it," Pam said. "I think it is wonderful."
Randy was thankful the officers took the time to do it. He hoped that the kids being around the officers in that setting will help them see the officers differently and not be apprehensive around them.
"It is good for the kids to get used to them and be comfortable around them," he said. "It is good for the kids to realize (the officers) are people, too, and they have a job to do."
Many of the officers are always touched by the children who are shopping for a brother, sister or other family member to make sure they have something for Christmas as well, Morehead said.
"It is always amazing," he said. "These kids might not have much but they still think about their siblings and others to make sure they have something for Christmas too."