The scene at the Crossroads Shopping Center on Friday, Dec. 14 had many people in wonder about what all the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department vehicles – including the S.W.A.T. truck – that were lined up in front of Kohl’s were doing there. In a world where people are almost used to hearing bad things, the first thought tends to be negative but not this time. For the past 10 years, Riverbank Police Services (RPS), Sheriff’s Deputies, and staff partnered together to bring a positive, warm, and cheerful interaction between the kids in the community and law enforcement through the Shop with a Cop program.
“It is important to keep it going so we have positive contact with the kids in the community,” stated RPS Chief Erin Kiely. “It is also important for our staff to have those positive contacts. Any time you can have human interaction that is positive through and through, it is a good thing.”
The children are nominated by schools, officers, city staff or churches to participate in the program. There were approximately 12 families with a total of about 40 kids from the community that got transported to Kohl’s for a shopping spree for essentials. With donations raised, each child was able to spend $150 for coats, shoes, jeans, and any other items that were needed.
“This is an opportunity for us to have human interaction that is purely positive,” added Kiely. “It is a good thing. They (families) were appreciative of what we do here and the interaction.”
There were several deputies with different ranks shopping around the store with the kid or kids that they were matched up with, picking out and trying on clothing. The kids had smiles on their faces and in their hands carried the items they selected.
First year program participant Deputy Maria Munoz had seventh grader Joanna Rico, who was excited to be able to shop for a few new things. Deputy Bertalotto had two kids to shop with: Taylor, 7 and Trinity, 2. Head Range Master/Armor, In-service Training Coordinator Gingerich had a little guy that was in a stroller that he got to shop with. Detective Dias had a young man with him that picked out a few clothing items and then planned to be on their way to look at some shoes.
The positive reinforcement between the kids and the deputies makes this program important to continue, according to Chief Erin Kiely.
“If we are around them and it is a positive experience and they can see we are human beings when you see them later, number one, they are not hesitant to approach you and number two, the interaction is comfortable and without purpose,” expressed Kiely. “The ice is broken and it is familiar.”
Store manager Kaylee Ussery expressed that she loved having the program at Kohl’s and are very thankful that they chose their store.
After the shopping trip they made their way to St. Frances of Rome Church where the hall was transformed into Whoville with a first time appearance by the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes bigger in Riverbank that evening seeing all the kindness, warmth and cheer that was flowing throughout the pizza party. Santa and Mrs. Claus made their way there as they usually do, to spend some time with the kids, take pictures, and give out presents.
Mountain Mikes, Round Table, and Pizza Plus donated pizzas for the event. The tables were decorated with candy and each child got to decorate a Christmas tree cookie, with icing packets available to decorate it. There were balloons and festive decorations throughout the hall. The records department, CSO Hardy and a few patrol officers as well as the chief assisted in decorating the hall.
Another new thing this year, Records Supervisor Martha Perez shared was that there was a box placed on each table for every family that was filled with food, including stuffing, potatoes, canned goods, and a turkey so that they can enjoy a Christmas dinner. Marissa Perez with the Turlock Gospel Mission donated food for the boxes and Home Depot donated trees for families. The Explorers were on hand to bring in pizza and help with the activities.
The event was filled with shopping, pleasantries, fun for all, pizza, and presents that made it another successful year of Shop with a Cop.