Police officers and children paired up Saturday morning to do a little shopping — Christmas toy shopping, that is.
For the sixth year in a row, the Belleville Police Department invited more than 20 area children to participate in the Shop With a Cop event. The idea is to provide kids in need with a few well-deserved Christmas gifts, as well as some essentials such as clothes and shoes. The kids met with officers, and even Mr. and Mrs. Claus, at the Target off Illinois 15.
“We want to build some community relationships and show kids that cops don’t just show up when bad things happen,” said Geoff Wells, a Belleville patrol officer and organizer of the event.
Zachary Schembra, 7, attended the event with his mom, Amy. She said the family was having some hard times financially, so she was glad for a chance for her son to get the Star Wars, Lego sets and board games he wanted for Christmas. Zachary was soft-spoken, though he said he likes art and science. Because he’s done so well in school, and because his mom needed a little extra help this year, one of the school counselors picked him to participate in the event.
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The program is entirely funded by donations. This year, the department raised $9,000 for the event, Wells said. Tami Kimbrell, store manager, said she enjoys helping out by being a host for the event. This is the third year the store has had Shop With a Cop, she said.
“This is a great opportunity for kids to come in and interact with cops,” Kimbrell said. “But it’s also a good opportunity for us to get to know the community a little bit, too.”
It’s also a chance for kids like Ryan Odom, 7, to meet and talk to a police officer. His mom, Sheri Stoffel, said her son wants to become a police officer when he grows up. They moved here from Cincinnati this year, and are looking forward to Christmas with family, Stoffel said. As for Odom, he said he was looking forward to filling his cart with Nerf guns and Batman toys.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Stoffel said.
Anyone wanting to donate to the program can contact Wells at the Belleville Police Department by calling 618-233-6810.