ELKHART — The Walmart on Old U.S. 20 near Ash Road was swarming with Elkhart police officers Thursday evening, but not to worry, it wasn’t for anything crime-related.
Rather, the officers buddied up with about 20 local children to help them check off items on their Christmas list during the annual Cops 4 Kids event.
The program, sponsored by the Elkhart Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52, has been working with area schools for more than 25 years to give underprivileged children a Christmas they might not otherwise have, said Cpl. Jason Ray, president of FOP Lodge 52.
“Our goal is to make sure if there’s any kids or families in need of help that they have a good Christmas by making sure they get gifts,” Ray said. “It also helps foster good relationships with the police officer and that family by just helping them out and making sure they have the best holiday they can.”
The event began with each child being picked up from their home by their assigned officer and taken to the Elkhart Police Department. After that, a caravan of patrol cars – with lights and sirens blaring – headed to Walmart for a shopping spree.
With Christmas lists in hand, the children, accompanied by a cop, hit the shelves looking for the best deals and best gifts for family members, and of course themselves.
Jamaiah Tuggle, 10, was partnered with Officer Crisha Bishop. The two were in the toy aisle looking for Barbie dolls for Tuggle and her sister.
“This is a lot of fun,” Tuggle said. “I like shopping with Officer Bishop. She’s helped me a lot with picking my gifts.”
Henry Winegard was shopping with Sgt. David Baskins. The 7-year-old was enthusiastically stocking his cart with superhero toys.
“Henry’s an only child, so unlike many of the other kids, he gets to mainly shop for himself,” Baskins said.
Most children are selected for the program based on referrals from Elkhart Community Schools and others are chosen through relationships officers developed with the children by either working with them at their school or going to their house for calls, Ray said.
On average, it costs $15,000 to $20,000 to run the program, Ray said, which is raised by community donations to the FOP. Each child is given an allowance of $150 to $600 based on the size of the family living in their residence.
The night concluded with a pizza party, provided by Walmart, and a ride home in a squad car.
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office also had its fifth annual Shop with a Sheriff on Thursday.
About 20 children traveled with an officer to the Meijer store and set off to find the treasures within accompanied by about 40 county officers from the Detective Bureau, Patrol and Corrections.
Each child was accompanied by officers as they shopped for clothing, school supplies and a few toys, as well as gifts for family members.
With the help of the local community members, businesses and sheriff’s office employees, over $7,000 was raised to help fund the evening, the sheriff’s office said.