A young girl selected a Barbie camper as her gift, but was more concerned about getting warm gloves for school mates during a Christmas shopping excursion Sunday as part of the 16th annual Cops and Kids event.
The O’Fallon Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 198 made Christmas merrier and brighter for 35 children, said Lodge President Brian Gimpel.
“Many children left today with smiles on their faces, but they have no idea the joy they brought to the officers who were escorting them,” Gimpel said.
Eighteen officers, from patrolman to chief, escorted participants, ranging in age from 5 to 10 years old, who are selected from the O’Fallon School District 90 and Central School District 104.
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“The school counselors select the kids, from kindergarten to third grade. We’ve worked with them for 16 years. They know more about the family situations,” he said.
Each child partnered with a police officer and received $250 to purchase gifts for themselves at the O’Fallon Walmart, but some children often chose to spend some of the money on gifts for family members.
“A great example was the child I had the privilege of escorting. All she wanted was one item for herself, the Barbie camper, which she got, but from that point, it was all about buying for others to include stocking caps and gloves so she could take them to school for children who did not have any,” he said.
“Not to mention this child repeatedly thanked us, came up and just gave me a huge hug, and this gives us hope for the future. So, of course, I may have disregarded our budget to make sure this girl had the things she wanted as well as things for other children,” he said.
The children often need clothes, he said, which they will get, but the police also want them to get toys.
“We’re not about to let them leave without some toys,” Gimpel said.
The community support is gratifying, too, he said.
“We spent $8,500 total. This experience would not be possible without the overwhelming support we receive from local businesses and the great citizens of O’Fallon. This is made possible from our annual golf tournament in September,” Gimpel said. “We also get extra donations all year long.”
Community outreach is important, said O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook.
“The Fraternal Order of Police has done a great job of continuing this community program as a group,” Van Hook said. “The enthusiasm the officers have for this program is something to see.”
The size of the program has grown over the years, its success helped by its community partners and unsolicited donations from the general public.
“They exemplify the true Christmas spirit our community has for helping those who are less fortunate,” Gimpel said.
Walmart has been partnering with the police department since the program began. “They’re great to work with. They have one checkout lane solely for us. They throw in $2,500 every year,” he said.
But this is not the end of the O’Fallon Police’s outreach for the year. Next up is the Santa Breakfast Saturday, which they also donate to the community.