EATON — While Walmart always gets busy mid-December, with parents and family members alike preparing for the holiday season, it was a different sort of busy on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Starting at 7 p.m., the Superstore was overrun by cops from a wide range of different Preble County law enforcement agencies.
The sight was not a negative one, but rather the annual Cops and Kids event which pairs officers with children to buy them holiday gifts and winter clothing. Hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police, Floyd E. Spitler Lodge 158, the night is meant to ensure these children have a happy and warm holiday season.
According to Captain Brad Moore with the Preble County Sheriff’s Department, this year the event treated nine families (for a total of 28 kids) to a catered meal by Bear Paw Catering. Joe, Mindy, Al, and Peggy from Bear Paw donated the meal for 65 people. Santa Claus even attended the dinner, where he got to meet with the children. Following, the officers took the children to Walmart to shop.
With their allotted funds, the kids are told they have to get clothing first, but once they get the essentials they are allowed to buy whatever they want (within reason). The money will not be used to buy the family food, as this money is meant to buy the kids what they need, however, the officers will not allow the families to go hungry. In past years the officers have purchased food for families in need with their own money.
Bear Paw Catering did donate a ham and a bag of potatoes for every family before they left. The chidlren are allowed to buy food they want and do not normally get to have.
This was the biggest holiday event the FOP has ever hosted. Normally, the officers have sponsored 15-25 kids, but this year thanks to generous donations throughout the year, the officers were able to take on more.
“It is really good, we have a lot of good families this year. Our donations were up, so it allowed us to pick up a few extra kids. Throughout the year, we accept private donations through both individuals and businesses. This year we had a couple extra businesses that helped us raise money,” Moore said.
“We’ve helped quite a few kids over the years.”
All of the officers at the event volunteer their time. Moore sends out an email through the FOP chain to local Preble County agencies. At that point, everybody who wishes to be a part of the event (from officers to dispatchers) will offer their time.
One such participant was Sergeant Jennifer Petitt, who has been volunteering her time for Cops and Kids for several years now.
“I enjoy working with these kids and seeing their expressions. I like making them happy,” Petitt said. “The kids are always excited and they get to pick out what they want. Sometimes the families just don’t have the money to get that and we enjoy being able to provide that for them. I just love putting a smile on their face and being able to make them look forward to Christmas.”
Detective Andrew Blevins with the PCSO added, “I’ve been doing this for a few years now. My wife and I do it together, though she is not associated with the Sheriff’s Office, and one of the things we like the most about it is the joy on the kids face when they get to come. They are very thankful, you can tell it is not something that they get to do all the time. They do not take this for granted.
“The parents are also very thankful. They help us tame the kids a bit to get clothing and other things they need. To be honest, normally when we first come in, most of the kids will go to the clothes first. For a couple years, I’ve had kids want to get stuff for their parents before they get toys for themselves.”
According to Detective Blevins, this event is good for the community for more than the reason that they are helping families out for Christmas. Not only are they making a positive impact in the children’s life, but they are associating that positive memory with police officers.
“This shows kids that police aren’t just here for the bad things. Unfortunately, a lot of the kids that we have in this event have only interacted with police officers in a negative way. This positive interaction is great for them and the community,” he said.
As for how the families are chosen, Captain Moore will first reach out to counselors at the five Preble County schools. He will also take nominations from deputies throughout the year. The deputies, being in the field, will see families, specifically children, who are in need of a little extra help.
One mother said she almost turned down the Cops and Kids event, feeling there were other families who needed more help, but after being anonymously nominated, she thought it was fate.
“I was registered for the event, I don’t know by who, but I have three kids and a little girl who is not mine biologically, but she lives with me and we took her in. I’m a full time student and my husband is the only one working, so this is to help out,” she said.
“At first I thought that since my husband works and we have money coming in that there were other kids who needed this more, so I asked my mother-in-law to not nominate us and she respected that, but somebody else registered us. It could have been her, but she swears it wasn’t, so I thought for a second time that maybe I should do it.
“We have three kids and I don’t have any income coming in, plus we have an extra kid that isn’t really ours and we get no help with her. This is just helpful with having four kids. This is giving back to the community and it shows that people cares and that there are still good people out there.”
For another family who participated in Cops and Kids this year, the event was their saving grace. According to Amber Hickle, devoted mother of four, years in the past have been rough for her, but none worse than this year. She was approached by an officer and didn’t have a second of hesitation before taking him up on the offer.
“My kids needed this badly. I was very grateful,” Hickle said tearfully. “This is going to help me out tremendously, because I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get toys or any type of Christmas for them this year. This is a big relief and it has taken a big load off my shoulders, because now I don’t have to think about my kids not having Christmas.
“I’ve struggled here and there, but this has been my worst year ever. There are a lot of families out there in need and this is helping, not only us, both others families in need as well. It helps the community know that there is help out there and that there is hope, because I know that a lot of people feel hopeless sometimes — I know I do.”
Captain Moore added, “I think this event is great for the community, because we are the vessel that the community is using to help these families. Most of our deputies and dispatchers do donate their own money, and obviously their time, but 90 percent of what we raise is through private individuals and businesses in Preble County. So obviously we are the ones who are here shopping with them, but this is a Preble County-wide event.
“This is a very humbling experience when you get to go to somebody’s house and you tell the kids that they are going to get to have Christmas. That, to me, is very humbling and it is what the holidays are all about. It is about giving. Most of these kids when they go anywhere they know they are not going to get anything, but here they get to pick out their clothes and pick out what they want.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH