… Annual event funded by Optimist clubs …
By Pat van den Beemt, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 15, 2011
The sound of Christmas for 110 children wasn’t sleigh bells or reindeer prancing on rooftops.
It was the wail of police car sirens.
The kids, from Baltimore County families who could use some help with the holidays this year, rode in police cars from their local precincts to Walmart in Cockeysville.
The 10th annual Shop with a Cop outing started just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 10 as the long line of police cars pulled off York Road into the parking lot.
“It gives me chills when I see those cars coming in,” said Timonium Optimist member Donna Bullen, who chaired this year’s event. “It’s just exhilarating.”
Optimist Clubs from Cockeysville, Hereford, Jacksonville, Timonium and Towson University spent the past year raising money to fund the shopping spree. Each child received a $100 gift card.
After being greeted by dozens of Optimists and Wal-Mart employees, the kid/cop pairs took their shopping carts past Dulaney High School’s band, which treated shoppers to Christmas music.
Within minutes, they filled the toys and electronics aisles.
“Please, please don’t let it be too much,” whispered Chuck, 6, as his police officer tallied up the loot in his cart.
“You’re OK for now, but you’re getting close to $100,” said Officer Ron Daffron, from White Marsh precinct, as Chuck put a Transformer and a Thomas train set on his pile.
By the time they checked out, Chuck had more than $100 worth of items. Daffron pulled out his wallet and picked up the tab on the rest.
As kids raced from one side of Walmart to the other, they picked out everything from candy bars and big-ticket items.
“I got a bike, a bike lock and a hoodie,” said Dustin, 13, as he held onto the handlebars of his new bike in the checkout line with Towson precinct’s Brian Kelly. “This is my first time to do this and it’s really cool.”
Kelly’s son, Brandon, 12, kept Dustin company on his shopping spree.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Brandon said.
Officer Dottie Dupree, from Parkville precinct, shelled out her own money when the items Altalley, 6, bought exceeded the gift card.
His loot included Sponge Bob boots and Spiderman sneakers for himself and a pink potty seat for his little sister.
Many children bought presents for their families. Travis, 5, who was paired up with Lasheena Cordero, of White Marsh, filled his cart with fuzzy socks and a candle for his mother, cookies for his father, and Hungry, Hungry Hippo game for himself.
One young girl had several relatives follow her as she shopped. London, 8, was with Tracie Eckstein with the Cockeysville precinct. London’s parents, grandmother and cousin took pictures but stayed in the background.
“It’s good for kids to see police officers in a nice situation like this,” said London’s mother, Lakisha. “She was so excited about today, and it’s great she gets to buy whatever she wants. We have seven children and we took in my sister’s two after she passed last year, so this is a blessing.”
Optimist members helped bag each child’s goodies, and then served up juice, doughnuts, grapes and bananas.
All police officers and their charges were then treated to a free breakfast at Outback Steakhouse in Hunt Valley Towne Centre.
“Outback started this whole thing,” said Michael Schmitz, school resource officer at Eastern Technical High and with Essex precinct. He said Outback’s regional manager, Kim Coles, contacted him in 2001 and offered to sponsor 25 children on a shopping trip and free meal.
He said the Timonium Optimist Club members approached him in 2002 and said they, along with other clubs, would raise $10,000 so 100 children could participate that Christmas. He has run the program ever since. Each precinct chooses local children in need. This year’s 110 children is the most children so far, he said.
“With some of these kids, you have to force them to buy something for themselves. You’ll see them buying household items,” Schmitz said. “We just want to make sure every kid has a Christmas, and they get to have some positive interaction with police officers.”