'An unbelievable gift' -- 10th annual Shop-with-a-Cop brings joy to less fortunate
The North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police—West River Lodge and members of the Dickinson Police Department and the Stark County Sheriff's Office hosted their annual Shop-with-a-Cop event, which gave police officers an opportunity to bring more attention to the "service" part of protect and serve.
"We meet the kids and parents at Walmart, and the kids get to choose the officer they want to shop with," Capt. David Wilkie, Dickinson Police Department, said. "Each child is given a gift card to spend on whatever they want, as long as the parent consents to it. The child can buy gifts for themselves or their family and friends."
Officers who volunteered for the program were pleasantly surprised with the Christmas spirit of giving that many of the young children demonstrated.
"It's amazing how many kids spend a majority of the money on their family and only get themselves something small and inexpensive," Wilkie said. "It's awesome."
During the 10th annual Shop-with-a-Cop, 25 children from the local area were selected to be part of the event through various avenues, including the Stark County Social Services, Community Action and other local entities.
Children were each given $75 Walmart gift cards to spend on whatever they wanted, whether for themselves or others, and together with an officer roamed the aisles of Walmart in search of that special gift.
"Social services help us by providing names of children and parents who could benefit from such a program," Wilkie said. "The intent of the program is to give the children who are in the greatest need an opportunity to give and receive some much needed holiday cheer."
Wilkie explained why he enjoys organizing the event each year, saying that the kids' faces as they pick out their favorite toy or even sometimes something for a sibling or parent was "worth it."
According to Wilkie, It means a lot to families involved in the program, many who may be struggling to pay bills much less think about buying their kids presents for Christmas.
"There are some families whose parents have been out of work for months," he said. "This is a hard time for them because of the needs prevalent at this time of year. Presents are unfortunately down at the bottom of the list of things that need to be purchased."
In past years the number of children participating in the program was much smaller, but through "very generous" donations from residents and local businesses, the program has grown and permitted the inclusion of many more children.
"It is amazing," Wilkie said. "It was an unbelievable gift. This program here—you just see the kids come back and you see their faces, or even the parents' faces—it's well, well worth it."