By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Young children browsed the aisles in the toy section of the Liberty Walmart just before Christmas after being picked for a surprise shopping trip by Liberty County lawmen and women. Most shopped for gifts for themselves and their siblings while others looked for presents for their parents and grandparents.
The first-ever Shop With a Cop at the Walmart store in Liberty on Dec. 15 was organized by Texas Rangers Ryan Clendennen and Brandon Bess with the assistance of Walmart’s store manager, Barry Jones. Shop With a Cop, also called Blue Santa in other parts of the country, pairs peace officers and children in a fun, informal setting. The children interact with the officers on a one-on-one basis and get to see the officers as more than a gun and badge.
“One of our main goals was to have one-on-one time with children in our community and to let them see the human side of law enforcement officers,” Clendennen said. “I had two goals – let the kids hang out with police officers and to give back to the community through law enforcement. I think we accomplished that.”
While some Shop With a Cop events pre-select children based on economic need, the Liberty event included children who just happened to be in the store with their parents around 7:30 a.m. that Saturday morning.
“The best part of the event was finding children who weren’t expecting to be invited to shop. It was my decision to go find kids in the store who were shopping with their families. Some of the kids thought it was a miracle because they were going to have a short Christmas without some help,” Clendennen said.
Each child was given a $100 gift card they could spend on any items in the store. Some children picked bikes and game controllers while others picked dolls, shopping carts, balls and Legos. Walmart picked up the tab for any overages incurred by the children, which was around $20 per child.
The idea to start a Shop With a Cop event in Liberty came from Tarkington native Ranger Clendennen, who has participated in similar events in Livingston, Texas, where he is assigned.
“Because Brandon and I care so much about Liberty County, I thought it would be a good program to bring to Liberty. I wanted to involve more of the agencies that aren’t always involved in these events like the constable’s offices,” he said. “We reached out to the constables, Liberty and Dayton police departments, Texas Highway Patrol and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. They all wanted to be a part of it. Next year we are going to include the game wardens, too.”
Together, the agencies quickly raised roughly $2,300 that was split among two dozen children.
“We know a lot of people in the community who are always willing to help law enforcement,” the Ranger said. “We have plenty of need in this county and plenty of good folks who are willing to give to a legitimate cause. We will learn from this year’s event and make it even better next year.”
Clendennen was pleased to see a spirit of camaraderie and goodwill between the officers during the event.
“There are very few times we all gather for something good that is not work-related. We were all there for a common goal of making Liberty County a better place,” he said.