Annual Shop with a Cop event brings cheer to children
Several area students took off in different directions at Walmart Wednesday afternoon, with Gage County deputies chasing close behind.
First grader Bradly Boone and his partner Deputy Bensbee quickly found themselves in the toy section.
Bradly was choosy at first, taking his time. After a few minutes of shopping however, the cart began to pile up.
At the end of the mad-dash, Bradly had selected four laser swords, three Nerf guns, two board games, two buckets of slime and a toy gorilla.
The sheriff’s office picked up the tab, as the students were participating in the annual Shop with a Cop program.
The program, which is in its 11th year, is a way for law enforcement to connect with kids in the community. Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said counselors and staff from nine area elementary schools select one child for the program every year.
The selected kids were then picked up by a deputy in a sheriff’s vehicle and driven to Walmart where they were given a $100 shopping spree to buy gifts for themselves and their loved ones.
Children could also play with lights and sirens in the parking lot before the event. After the shopping spree the kids went to Sonic where they wrapped the gifts with the deputies.
Bensbee, who dressed in a full Santa Claus outfit for the event, works in the K-9 division and brought along the department’s K-9, Buster. Buster was the star of the afternoon as each kid enjoyed meeting and petting him.
Bensbee said he was happy to volunteer and had a great experience.
“I love to bring a smile to a kid’s face, and I love Christmas,” Bensbee said.
Fifth grader Aryan Shillings from Wilber-Clatonia grabbed a red fuzzy pillow, a basketball, and a particularly large Nerf gun, among other things.
Aryan spoke with remarkable candor about his intentions for the Nerf gun.
“I want it to shoot my brothers with,” he said.
Aryan raced down the aisles, riding his shopping cart like a scooter past walls full of colorful toys and electronics. He seriously considered buying a rubber chicken that squeaked when squeezed, but he realized the toy might annoy his mom.
Deputy Tim Hanson tailed Aryan throughout the store, ducking through the aisles and trying to keep the excited shopper in his sight.
“I’m having trouble keeping up with him,” Hanson said. “and I run.”
Gustafson said the children are selected by the schools to allow them to have a more positive Christmas experience and a better view of law enforcement.
“It isn’t about income,” he said. “It’s about kids who need a role model.”
Gustafson said that the department runs the program totally off of donations, which are accepted throughout the year. He said Shop with a Cop requires about $1,200 annually. The department works with the Eagle’s Club each January to hold a raffle which helps to pay for the program, but much of the funding comes from other donors.
He added the experience is an important way for the sheriff’s department to get involved in the community, and to allow kids to see the person behind the badge when they encounter law enforcement. He said both deputies and corrections officers volunteer for the event, and they appreciate the opportunity to give back.
“People like seeing law enforcement in a different light,” Gustafson said.
Pamela Yates, a first grader from Tri-County took her time with her selections. Deputy John Patch helped her select a video game and a puzzle game for her brothers, and a board game for her to play with her mom.
After about an hour, the kids and cops began to trickle to the front of the store to check out. The deputies were a bit exhausted, but the kids were grinning ear to ear.