CEDAR CITY — Sirens rang and lights flashed as a convoy of emergency vehicles lined up in the Cedar City Wal-Mart parking lot early Saturday morning. They were there to escort more than 90 children to breakfast before they would head back to the store to begin shopping.
All part of the annual “Shop With a Cop” event, officers and volunteers were paired with a child at Wal-Mart at 6:30 a.m. From there, a procession of squad cars, fire trucks and ambulances hauling children drove northbound on Interstate 15 to Canyon View High School where the group ate a breakfast cooked by the local Elks Lodge.
For more than 20 years, police officers from Cedar City and local surrounding police departments and emergency agencies have been part of the “Shop With a Cop” event to help needy children get toys, clothing and other items from their wish lists. This year, there were about 90 children paired with law enforcement officers, emergency responders and volunteers.
“I see that there are more kids that need the help. I don’t think we’re reaching all the kids that could use the help,” Sgt. Jerry Womack said.
I had lots of families call after we sent the letters out inviting them to the program and asking if they could be on the list and it’s just saddening when you can’t help. We only have so much money. But we do try to work with the other entities, like the Toys for Tots and the holiday assistance groups to make sure everybody gets served.
Womack, who has overseen the annual event for several years, said the children are largely referred by schools and social service agencies in Iron County.
Each child is given a $100 gift card to spend that comes from private donations and “Tip a Cop” fundraisers, held throughout November and December, where officers donate their time to wait tables in local restaurants. This year, approximately $10,000 was raised.
The Elks Lodge has also been a huge part of “Shop With a Cop” for several years, holding several fundraisers of their own to raise money for the breakfast and to be able to give each child a $20 voucher for shoes.
“Every year they feed us and they do this with their own fundraisers. They have parties, dinners and stuff like that and then they raise the money and in turn, put together this breakfast (and) provide the shoe vouchers,” Womack said. “They do a lot for us.”
Besides the breakfast that costs around $500, this year the lodge was able to raise money for about 50 pair of shoes, JoAnn Aldridge said.
“We hold horseshoe tournaments to raise money for the shoe vouchers,” she said of the Elks Lodge. “This year we held two different tournaments. And the shoes are for the kids only, no adults just the kids.”
After breakfast, the emergency motorcade headed back to Wal-Mart, again with lights flashing and sirens screaming, but this time, right down Main Street. For many of the children, the ride in a squad car is one of the best moments of the morning.
For some of the children, this experience may also make a difference later in life, said Buck Naegle, who is an employee of Wal-Mart and a member of the Iron County Search and Rescue Team. Naegle has always helped with organizing the “Shop With a Cop” event.
“I can’t help but think that this kind of event is going to help the community in the future, our future kids coming up, because they aren’t going to hate our law enforcement,” Naegle said. “There’s going to be that trust there. That’s what I like.”
Upon arriving at the store, the children met with Santa, who left his reindeer in the North Pole to take a helicopter escort provided by Upper Limit Aviation. While the children were happy to see the man in the red coat, he was even happier to be there.
“Seeing these police officers take time out of their lives and their day to come here and take these kids shopping, it just touches my heart,” Santa said. “I’m having a ball. I’m thoroughly enjoying this. It’s fantastic. To see the smiles on these kids’ faces is just heartwarming and I haven’t had one yet that hasn’t said ‘thank you.’”
As participants spread out throughout the store, sounds of laughter could be heard coming from different aisles as the children loaded up shopping carts with chosen items.
Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower, who has three daughters of his own, isn’t a stranger to shopping with girls so when the child assigned to him decided she wanted to spend her entire $100 on makeup, he knew better than to argue with a “woman.”
“She knew exactly what she wanted,” the sheriff said. “We got in the store and she went directly to the makeup and that was it — she started loading up the cart with makeup. I wasn’t about to try and tell her something different.”
For Alexis Mitchell, 15, who had the opportunity to come shopping with her 7-year-old little sister, the day wasn’t about buying gifts for herself but for her 2-year-old baby sister who was at home.
“I’m getting her lots of Minnie Mouse stuff and I’ll probably get her some clothes,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and her sister’s selflessness impressed Cedar City Police Officer Kyle Liddiard, who was touched by watching them use the money for everyone else that had been allotted to themselves.
“That’s one thing that’s really cool about these two, is that they both really are making sure that with all the money that’s for themselves, they’ve spent it on everybody else,” Liddiard said. “All they’re doing is trying to get things for everybody else and so the majority of the money is going for family members and stuff like that, so it’s really neat.”
But the children weren’t the only ones who had a good time — law enforcement officials could be heard in the store aisles laughing and commenting about how wonderful the day was going. Most of them echoed similar sentiments throughout the morning: “This event is the best part of my job” and “I look forward to this all year.”
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