If you saw or heard several police vehicles in Gainesville on Saturday morning, Dec. 14, there was no emergency — just law enforcement officers spreading Christmas joy to a dozen deserving children.
The annual Shop with a Cop program paired one child between the ages of 6 to 16 with a law enforcement officer and an Abigail’s Arms Cooke County Family Crisis Center volunteer advocate or staffer to go shopping for Christmas presents at Walmart.
The children, who might not otherwise receive gifts on Christmas morning, had breakfast at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1922 on Grand Avenue, then hopped in squad cars and headed to Walmart.
Each child is given a budget of $100 to shop, Abigail’s Arms Interim Director Ginger Johnson said. The money came from the Gainesville Rotary Club.
Johnson said the children, who were involved with one of the nonprofit’s programs, are picked by case managers.
She explained that some of the children were picked because their previous experience with law enforcement might have been negative, given their circumstances.
The nonprofit assists families involved in violent crimes.
“It [Shop with a Cop] builds relationships and helps the kids see a different side of law enforcement, that they’re not the big, scary bad guy and they can be friendly and helpful and that’s the person that you need to go to if there’s an emergency,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she thought every law enforcement agency in Cooke County was represented.
Gainesville Police Chief Kevin Phillips said it is “uplifting” to participate in an event such as Shop with a Cop.
“We have all experienced times in our lives where we needed assistance and this gives us the chance to give something back while providing a child with a positive experience that they can hopefully carry with them through the rest of their life,” said Phillips, who added he has worked with the program for “many years.”
“I hope that programs such as Shop with a Cop show the children and their families that law enforcement is truly there to provide assistance so that they feel confident when reaching out to us when they need help.”
Cooke County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Investigator Jerry Crumley believes the program is beneficial to children and law enforcement alike. He said children get a positive interaction with law enforcement and law enforcement officers who don’t regularly interact with agencies such as Abigail’s Arms get a chance to do so.
“To participate in the program meant a lot for me, especially getting to interact with some children that I represent during my investigations,” Crumley said. “It’s always a good feeling to see them and their families smiling.”
Crumley said this was his second year to participate. The first year was “several years ago while Michael Compton was still sheriff,” he said.
Rotary Club member George Grounds said this is the second year for the club to sponsor Shop with a Cop.
“The thing that you notice is that these children will buy things for their brothers and sisters and their moms and dads,” Grounds said. “Very little for themselves … It’s a great project.”