EATON — Numerous police cruisers pulled in front of the Eaton Walmart on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with lights flashing, but it wasn’t any emergency which brought them to the supercenter. Instead, it was the annual Cops & Kids event, hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police, Floyd E. Spitler Lodge #158.
Donations are accepted year round to provide necessities, such as clothing, and Christmas presents to area children. Those kids are partnered with officers from various departments and given the opportunity to build relationships with local law enforcement as they shop through Walmart.
The Cops & Kids event helps families from all over the Preble County community. On the day of the event, the families meet for dinner and receive a visit from Santa Claus. The selected families then go shopping with FOP members for all the necessities: jackets, clothes, shoes, socks and any other clothing items they are in need of. With any remaining funds, they may purchase gifts for themselves or their family.
Participating families are chosen through referrals by school counselors, teachers, or community members. Some of the families are ones that police encountered on calls. According to Lodge President Brad Moore, the families chosen have “fallen on hard times” and FOP wants to make Christmastime easier for them.
Most of the money utilized is raised by private donations, though Walmart is a corporate sponsor of the event. This year, the money was split between 13 families with a total of 27 kids. Every child in the program had $200 to spend on necessities, toys, and even presents.
This year, donations had increased from past years, which allowed the FOP to serve more kids and families. Out of the donation money, meals were also provided for the families.
Dinner prior to the shopping trip was sponsored by Vancrest. Each family is also provided with ham and potatoes to make a holiday meal. They are then given a Walmart gift card to purchase Santa gifts to put under the tree.
When shopping, the kids will start with the necessities. Clothing, including coats, shoes, underwear, and other needs are bought first. After that, the kids can choose to buy toys, electronics, games, or gifts for their families.
“[The shopping trip] usually takes a little while, because these kids are not used to getting much at the store. For them to pick out a few toys and clothes, they’re very meticulous. An eight year old little boy [in this program] is much more meticulous than my little girl, because he has to be. That is whats really humbling about all of this,” Moore said.
As public servants, Moore believes it is important for them to give back and show support to the community. It also helps get him in the Christmas spirit and feel like he is “making a difference.”
“I think it is important for a lot of different reasons. One, public service is really what we do. This is another way for us to serve the public and let them know [we’re here to help]. Most of the time, for kids and adolescents, when the police are called to your house they’re not called to say you won the lottery. This lets them see us in a different light and that we are generous,” he said.
“This is what the Christmas spirit is about. It is all about giving back and about the kids. Seeing a kid’s face light up when he is given a toy he otherwise wouldn’t be able to purchase without the community support, donations, and us being an extension of the community. It puts you in the Christmas spirit and makes you feel like you are making a difference.”
In addition to providing Preble County children with a positive Christmas experience, the Cops & Kids shopping trip also raises awareness for the various Preble County law enforcement agencies and the positive impact they make on their communities.
“It brings awareness more than anything. Everybody comes into Walmart and they [ask why we’re here]. That gets the word out and lets our presence be known that we’re here and what we’re doing. It is all about awareness and bringing to light the good things we’re doing,” Moore said.
Not only is the money for the event donated, but the officers who participate also donate their time.
Moore said, “That really speaks to the law enforcement in this county, they are very carrying. They are donating their time — especially this time of the year, because they have families as well, and they’re taking time away from their families to volunteer. Everybody is really passionate about it and love to do it. They get really excited.”
Eaton Police Department Sergeant Sean Mackey believes it is important for law enforcement to give back to the community and show youth that they’re here to support them in positive ways.
“I find it genuinely enjoyable to see how happy it makes the kids and parents. You see a real emotion come out when they get to have a Christmas. We have the ability and responsibility [to give back]. I think some of these kids know us in a way that is not very favorable to them. This gives us an opportunity to show them there is more to law enforcement and the police and let’s us fulfill that responsibility in a very positive way,” he said.
“This is an opportunity for us to make a difference these kids will remember for a lifetime. A lot of people might only have one or two interactions with law enforcement their entire lives. We do this every year – these kids will remember this the rest of their lives. You hear officers talking with middle and high school students who bring up their time when they went with Cops & Kids. It really makes a big difference to them.”
For Preble County Sheriff Office Captain Andrew Blevins, the Cops & Kids event hits close to home. While he was never a part of the program himself, he had a similar upbringing to many of the kids who now benefit from Cops & Kids.
“One big thing for me is, I never did this as a kid, but I was one of the kids who usually had little or nothing for Christmas. I think it is a great opportunity and experience for me to help provide kids — who were in the same position I was — some type of Christmas and joy around the holidays,” he said.
“Some of the kids that are here, we might only have interaction with them when we’re doing something negative to their family. This is a good opportunity to give back to them and give the positive side of what policing is — we are here, we’re caring, we’re friendly, and we’re here to help.
“I really believe this event as a whole helps us connect with them, on a level where they may be comfortable coming to us in the future. It gives them an outlook that we are approachable and they can come to us with anything.”
Donations for Cops & Kids are accepted year round. Donations for next year’s event can be made to Cops & Kids, P.O. Box 602, Eaton, OH 45320. According to Moore, 100 percent of the donations goes toward the event and helps the FOP serve more children moving forward.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH