‘Shop With a Cop’ Helps Fill Stockings, But Leaves Lasting Impact, too
The format was a little different due to COVID-19 protocols – police officers were stationed in aisles rather than riding alongside shopping carts – but the mission was the same.
Spread some holiday cheer while building positive community rapport.
Around 30 Hawai‘i Police Department personnel accomplished that very task Saturday morning during the annual Shop With a Cop event at Target, as the uniformed patrol helped around 55 families load up on free gifts in the store just in time Christmas.
“I didn’t know they offered this kind of stuff, it was awesome,” said Shantel Kimi, who picked out with her son, Jaxton, a dozen new toys, including Nintendo games and a massive Nerf gun.
It was the first time Kimi took part in the program, which she found out about through Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, the nonprofit that raises money to put on the event that’s been running in Kailua-Kona for two decades now. Other community groups pitch in to make the shopping spree go, such as SHOPO, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Paying It Forward. Families were presented a $100 gift card but officers were also on hand at the checkout stands to pick up any charges that might go over.
That’s what happened to Jaxton, his last toy brought his total amount over $100, but a serviceman in blue was their to pick up the rest of the tab.
The generosity and organization of the event blew Kimi away, she said, as someone seeing it all for the first time.
“It was all very easy,” she said.
Besides helping families procure gifts for under the tree, the annual tradition also builds positive community-police relationships. It leaves children who might live in neighborhoods where police officers carry a negative stigma with a positive impression of service men and women, said Erin Basque, event organizer for Catholic Charities Hawai‘i.
“This is an opportunity for kids to connect and build that relationship between them,” she said.
Shop With a Cop used to take place at K-Mart. After the store closed a few years ago, Target stepped in.
“And it just kind of flourished,” Basque said of the shift to the new host.
The old format used to pair officers with kids, and together the teams would shop up and down the aisles. But with COVID-19 protocols being what they are, a little more space was required. No problem. Families pushed the carts and officers were stationed around the store.
The set up, said Kaylie Costello, 13, was a little like an obstacle course, as far as navigating around the officers.
“It’s not a good place to bring cart,” she joked, preparing to carry her selections by hand.
But the interactions were all worth it, said Officer John Harvey.
The first-year patrolman hadn’t participated in Shop With a Cop before Saturday, but community interfacing is one of his favorite parts of the job, so he knew he didn’t want to miss it.
“Especially right now, police officers get such a bad rap, how we kind of respond to that makes a big difference,” he said. “You can’t just put up a wall. Interact with people. Get to know them, get them to know you. Let them know you’re not this big, scary person.”
Community Police Officer Leonard Warren has taken part in several of the events over his 16 years on the force. Seeing the kids’ faces light up is his favorite part every time, he said.
But the part that makes the biggest impact on him? Often, the kids don’t even shop for themselves, they buy things for family members.
“One of the kids just wanted to buy food for his family,” he said.