By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
The toy section in the Cleveland Walmart Friday night was likely the safest place to be as dozens of police officers turned out for the Sixth Annual Shop With a Cop.
The event pairs children with law enforcement officers to purchase Christmas gifts for the child. The 51 children participating in this year’s Cleveland-area Shop With a Cop were selected based on need.
Organized by Walmart’s Asset Protection Manager Tim Hughes and Resurrection Ministries Founder Juanita Lewis, the Cleveland Shop With a Cop had participation from law enforcement officers representing Cleveland Police Department, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office, and constable offices for Pct. 5 and 6, and correctional officers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Each child receives a $50 gift card to purchase items throughout the store. While most kids make a beeline for the toy section, others look for clothing items to see them through winter.
“This event is important because we have a lot of children in need. Some of these children have gone through the tragedy of Harvey and lost everything,” Lewis said. “These families are still struggling to get back on their feet. We are showing them there are people who love them and are concerned about them.”
Though $50 seems like a small amount, the children are pleased to have any amount given to them, she added.
“I’ve been to their homes so I know their needs,” she said. “Fifty dollars isn’t a lot but they are happy to have it.”
The children are referred to Resurrection Ministries through contacts in Cleveland ISD, according to Lewis.
Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy John Bennett, who has participated in Shop With a Cop in the past, believes the event provides an opportunity for children to have positive interactions with police officers.
“Some of these kids I’ve come into contact with in the past — at least their parents. For them now to come up and want to have their photos taken with us makes us feel good. We don’t get to do that very often,” Bennett said. “You see all these officers standing here? The children get to see their human side and not just see them as cops.”
The money used for Cleveland’s Shop With a Cop is donated by Walmart. Hughes raises money for the event throughout the year.
“We know it’s important for the kids to feel the magic of Christmas. Sometimes you just need to see that twinkle in their eye to know you are making a difference,” Hughes said. “We are helping kids who otherwise might not have had anything for Christmas.”
The presents around the tree are nice, Hughes said, “but it’s the people around the tree who matter most.”