Newburgh Heights cops take 17 kids on Christmas shopping spree, but they get the real lesson in giving: A Greater Cleveland

December 15, 2017 GMT

Newburgh Heights cops take 17 kids on Christmas shopping spree, but they get the real lesson in giving: A Greater Cleveland

NEWBURGH HEIGHTS, Ohio – Tiffany Everhart can hardly contain her excitement as she climbs aboard a school bus with 16 other students from Washington Park School for a presidential-style escort to the Walmart at Steelyard Commons in Cleveland.

From her window seat, she watches a line of motorcycle cops and three police cars pull out in front of the bus with lights flashing and sirens blaring. An ambulance and more police cruisers fall in behind.

Having been treated to breakfast by the Newburgh Heights Police Department, Tiffany and the other students are now heading out for an all-expense-paid holiday shopping spree, billed as “Shop with a Cop.”

The children have been chosen to participate because of their good grades, for being good examples to their classmates, and because they come from low-income families. Each has been given a $100 gift card, provided by the police department, and is accompanied by an officer to assist with the selection of gifts.

Each year, the department holds fundraisers to be able to treat deserving kids to this shopping spree. Several local businesses contribute to the cause.

On this Saturday morning, the bus makes the trip in a matter of minutes, thanks to police cruisers blocking every intersection.

At the store, curious shoppers smile as they pass officers in bullet-proof vests and gun belts debating with their young charges which doll has the best accessories included, or which skirt is the cutest.

The officers are off duty and volunteering to accompany the kids. Their jobs: wheel the shopping carts and make certain the kids didn’t spend the $100 gift cards too foolishly.

What they get, in return, is a lesson in how a kid with few resources at home thinks.

Tiffany’s first stop is the jewelry counter, where she selects a watch for her father and a cross necklace for her mother. Then she moves on to the girl’s clothing department, where she picks up the pink t-shirt she knows her best friend is hoping to receive.

Most of the officers tell the same story – how these kids are thinking of others before buying for themselves. The children have all come with lists, and an attitude of sharing their windfall.

After finding gifts for those who matter most to her, Tiffany finally heads for the toy department to choose a “Sloppy Puppy” game and a Barbie for herself.

The kids often stop and ask, “do I have enough money for this?”

The answer is always “yes.”

What they don’t know is that the police motorcycle club – Blue Steel – has officers stationed at each check-out counter. If a kid goes “over budget,” Blue Steel members are there to pick up the difference.

“What? It’s Christmas. We are not going to tell a kid ‘no,’” says James Schilling, vice-president of the Blue Steel club, with a wink.

Aware that the kids will think of others first, Cpl. Sarah Bittner, the officer in charge of this year’s “Shop with a Cop,” has arranged for a surprise back at police headquarters. A hot chocolate bar and candy canes, craft items to make picture frames, gift tags to fill out and wrapping paper to make certain gifts stay secret until Christmas morning.

There will be pizza, followed by a fire engine bearing Santa. Then, each guest is will be ushered into the city’s council chambers for a private audience -- and will receive a bundle of gifts and treats selected especially for them -- by Santa Claus.

Once finished with her shopping, Tiffany begins envisioning Christmas Day and anticipating the impact her gifts will make.

“I know my dad is going to say ‘Why did you spend money on me?’” she tells her shopping companion. “And my mom is going to cry. But it’s going to be so fun to surprise them.”