For eight years the Shop with a Cop program has been a part of the City of Action holiday season and has helped families and children within the community get the necessities that they need and otherwise may not have had. As the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department vehicles lined the front of Kohl’s Department Store in the Crossroads, guests approached the doors very cautiously often asking “what is going on” or if it was safe to enter. It was safe, as the law enforcement presence at Kohl’s was not a reason to be concerned but a reason to spread holiday cheer.
“We are well aware that the uniform can sometimes be intimidating and is often a barrier of sorts,” stated Riverbank Police Services Chief Erin Kiely. “It’s important that this event continue because it affords us the opportunity to provide for children who might not have quite as much as another child and it allows us to show them that there is a human being in the uniform.
“That may not sound like much, but if it’s a child who has only seen us when something negative has happened, then this change in circumstances from negative to purely positive is huge.”
There were eight families that participated with a total of 28 children to provide shopping sprees for. Out of the 28 children only 18 kids shopped with the deputies at the store; however, they did shop for their younger siblings as well that stayed at home with their parents. Deputies invited assistance from their spouses, family members, and others to get the best selections for their $200 limit per child.
“The event’s popularity grows every year with both Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department employees and with the families who participate,” said Kiely. “This is an event that Riverbank Police Services cherishes, and there is no shortage of help to run the event.
“Anyone who has assisted at Shop with a Cop knows the true value that this program holds.”
The selected families are recommended by deputies, detectives, schools, and local churches. Deputies picked up kids in their vehicles and some even got to ride in the S.W.A.T. truck.
After the shopping spree families were treated to pizza at the Riverbank Community Center where they were entertained by Strut Performing Arts dancers and received a special visit and had their photo taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Each child received a present as well.
“This year we had an individual in the community contact us and were able to collect enough food to send home each of our families with a turkey and all the fixings for a Christmas dinner,” added Melissa Hardy, Riverbank Police Services Officer. “We were able to donate toys to nine other families as well thanks to Strut Performing Arts, Show Off Motorsports who donated a lot of toys, as well as a couple of local citizens.”
Hardy has taken lead on this project and was on scene sporting some reindeer antlers and with a smile on her face, ready to see it all through.
“Community Services Officer Melissa Hardy did the ‘lion’s share’ of the work to ensure that this year’s event was successful,” added Kiely. “It takes months of planning and preparation to coordinate something like this and you can generally tell how well something was planned by how smoothly it runs once underway. The event went very smoothly, which is all to her credit.”
Several deputies volunteer to participate in the event every year along with other employees, STARS volunteers and family members. Various businesses and organizations contribute to the success of the event with donations.
“Knowing that children have some practical clothing gifts to help get them through winter, seeing their eyes light up when Mr. and Mrs. Claus walk into the room, and enjoying a completely positive experience with the deputies makes the months of preparation all worthwhile,” expressed Kiely. “We have had smiling mothers, fathers and grandmothers become a little teary-eyed when speaking of this program. This is all the confirmation we need, to know that we are on the right track and that we will be back at it next year. We are extremely grateful for all of their contributions, which helped ensure that this year’s event was a great success.”