Cops for kids shopping spree

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Photo by Joyce Lee Marshall County High School sophomore Justice Giacomo helps a Christmas shopping tyke.

From staff reports

Dozens of elementary school children - those who otherwise might have had a less than merry Christmas - went shopping with Lewisburg Police officers and volunteers on Saturday.

"It was a great experience, I think, for everyone; the police department employees, volunteers, the children and even the employees of Wal-Mart who were helping out," Police Chief Chuck Forbis said.

Volunteers who helped police monitor the shopping trip included Justice Giacomo who said, "It's great to help these kids." Dana Dixon said, "It warms your heart to see the children enjoy themselves."

Several of the volunteers have done so before.

About 150 children were provided $100 to spend as they saw fit for Christmas presents. The annual Cops For Kids program is organized by Police Capt. Rebekah Mitchell with help from counselors from the three elementary schools in Lewisburg. The counselors provided names of children to participate.

At the cashiers' checkout counters it became clear to observers that some children had selected more clothes than toys.

"There were a lot of the children who selected necessities as opposed to wish-list type items," Forbis said, "although, obviously, a lot of them selected toys."

Last Christmas, there were a few more than 130 children who were helped and that's "roughly 15 more than last year," the chief said.

Forbis was asked how volunteers joined in the program, and he replied that they always worry about whether there will be enough helpers. Each year they've had plenty of pseudo Santas.

To substantiate those points, Mitchell recalled a conversation between one of the volunteers and three siblings.

"One of my girls told me she was shopping with three siblings and the kids asked her if they could go to the grocery side" of the store, Mitchell said. "'We just want to get something for dinner,'" she said, quoting one of the children. "They were asked what they wanted and one of them said 'Peanut butter and jelly because that would last longer.'"

The volunteer "liked to have lost it," Mitchell said of the young woman's emotional response. "One got the peanut butter and one got the jelly. I think there were three of them because one got the bread.

"They got other stuff, too," Mitchell said.

"A lot of times the parents will write a wish list on the permission form, so on the day of the shopping, the person helping the child can avoid taking time to try on clothes," the captain said. "One parent wrote that because of the cold winter, her children could use a coat, socks and shoes. They're the ones who really need help.'

The police, volunteers and the children were in and out of Wal-Mart in less than two and a half hours.

"The response has been impressive," said Joyce Lee, a community photographer who took pictures for the Tribune at Wal-Mart. Lee has also participated in the department's fundraising events that provide the money for the children's purchases.

Police department employees at the event included Darlene Robertson, Officers Amanda Binkley, John Christmas, Shaun Crawford, Sgt. David Henley and Detective Scott Braden. City Councilman Steve Thomas, a police chaplain, also participated.

"Capt. Mitchell organized the entire thing," Lee said. "The only restriction Capt. Mitchell put on them was that they could not purchase video games.

"The children had lists of things they wanted to get for themselves, their parents and siblings," Lee said.

"When I got there, the whole front area was filled with people, mainly teenagers and then two school buses pulled up," she said.

"They were bringing the children."

They gathered at Oak Grove Elementary School, were bused to Wal-Mart and taken back to the school where they had lunch just before their parents picked them up, Lee reported.

The parents were given large bags filled with what their children bought and then they went home.