Kids find presents under tree after Shop With a Cop program comes to town

WASHINGTON COUNTY — After fueling up with breakfast, officers, sheriff’s deputies, troopers and other first responders from all over the county escorted 102 lucky kids to three different Walmart stores to go Christmas shopping for the annual Shop with a Cop event.

More than 300 children, officers and administrative helpers participate in the Shop with a Cop Breakfast at the Washington County Fairgrounds Saturday morning, Hurricane, Utah, Dec. 16 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The event kicked off with officers picking up their assigned children shortly before 7 a.m. at the Hurricane Community Center. From there, it was “Code 3” with lights and sirens activated all the way to the fairgrounds at Washington County Legacy Park where more than 300 participants enjoyed an early breakfast – thanks to a group of officers who awoke early to cook.

When asked how many pancakes he flipped Saturday morning, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said “I have no clue.”

The breakfast not only served as a fuel up before the special shopping affair, it also allowed the children to get to know their partner before spending the morning together and helped them feel more comfortable, Carl Johnston, Washington County Explorer training coordinator, said. Johnston has more than 30 years of experience with the Shop With a Cop program.

Cadets with the Washington County Explorer program volunteered Saturday. Part of their function was locating the officer assigned to a specific child and matching the pair up, Cadet Bryson McKnight said.

After breakfast the officers and their partners rode together to one of the three local Walmart stores where the children were greeted by Santa as they entered. Officers grabbed shopping carts and set off with their young charges to help select much-needed items and necessities first – then it was off to the toy aisle.

Officers shopping at Walmart with children during Shop With a Cop Saturday morning, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Officers kept busy helping kids, tracking each child’s budget, enjoying the animated conversations of excited children and helping them make decisions.

Read more: Officers, children go ‘Code 3’ with sirens blaring to Shop with a Cop

It was Washington County Deputy Lorilei Teofilo’s first year participating in Shop With a Cop, who shopped with her junior partner, a 7-year-old boy named John.

“This is my first year and I’m really excited,” Teofilo said, “and it’s just really nice being able to engage with the community in something like this.”

Another first-year participant, Washington City Police Officer Sean Jolley, agreed, saying it was nice to get out and serve the community, do something different and have fun with the kids.

Jolley said what he enjoys most is “to see these kids happy – this is awesome.”

Shopping with children is nothing new for Washington City Police Officer Matthew Pratt, a father of six and a 10-year Shop With a Cop veteran. Pratt said he looks forward to the event every year and enjoys knowing that the little girl he was shopping with Saturday will have a better Christmas.

Once at the register, each officer paid for the items using a $150 gift card. After the purchases, they made their way to the wrapping station.

Walmart plays an important role in the Shop With a Cop program.

Officers wrap presents that will be delivered for Christmas during Shop With a Cop Saturday morning, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Each store makes preparations by stocking extra toys and merchandise the night before, and designated cash registers were set up along with a wrapping station Saturday. Extra associates were also on hand to help with locating various items, as well providing support to the Washington County Explorer cadets who volunteered to gift wrap the items.

Along with support staff, Walmart also provided a $2,500 grant to help with shopping costs, Washington Walmart Store Manager Kurt Harbin said, in addition to donating all of the wrapping supplies and labor.

“Our associates are helping with the gift wrapping and helping them find what they are looking for,” Harbin said, “and this is fun for us. It’s something we enjoy doing here.”

Pulsipher said it’s important for children to see the positive side of law enforcement, adding that the event allows the officer to interact with the children while doing something fun, which is good for both the child and the officer.

For Officer Jeff Adams, 17-year veteran of the Hurricane Police Department and Shop With the Cop coordinator for the department, said that after 14 years participating in it, he believes the annual event is important because it helps kids and families, adding, “I love this program.”

St. George Police Officer Lona Trombley has been organizing and coordinating the event for the St. George Police Department for more than 8 years. She said she is amazed every year at how giving and grateful the children are who participate.

Walmart employees manning the store while children shop with police during Shop With a Cop Saturday morning, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“I’ve never had a child who didn’t want to buy something for their parents or their siblings, and they all were so extremely grateful,” she said. “It’s very humbling.”

The Shop With the Cop program also raises “a little extra money,” Trombley said, which provides for the children who need basic necessities, such as warm clothing or shoes, while still allowing them to buy toys and “fun stuff.”

Adams said the extra money raised from the Hurricane Police Department was used to purchase clothes, gifts and toys for children who were too young to participate, so that they would have gifts under the tree, as well.

The program is supported by many different law enforcement agencies around the county, as well as the business community, generous companies that make it all possible, Pulsipher said.

“We’ve got help from everyone here,” Pulsipher said. “The county attorney is here, the FBI, and we’ve got officers from across the entire county, in addition to state parks, highway patrol and all police departments.”

Kony Coins for Kids selected the children to participate and also provided Washington County law enforcement agencies with the names of the youth they would be helping. In addition to the 102 children selected to be a part of “Shop with a Cop,” money was also raised to buy gifts for those children who were too young to participate. More than $15,000 was raised for the event, allowing each child to spend up to $150 on gifts for themselves and others.

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