NEWPORT — Law enforcement officers from around the county traded in their patrol cars for shopping carts and partnered with local foster children to round up holiday gifts at the Newport Walmart last Saturday. Each year, Oregon State Police volunteers help to organize “Shop with a Cop,” which gives foster children a $50 gift card and a personal escort to go shopping for the holiday.
The gift cards are given to the child and they are welcome to spend it however they like, though Sue Wilson has seen a pattern of giving in her years with the program.
“The majority of the time, the kids have come in with a list for their family members,” explained Wilson. “Whether it’s their extended (foster) families or for their own family members. The kids can, if they want to, spend the money on themselves — we don’t put any holds on that money, as to how the kids want to spend it.”
Wilson is one of the Oregon State Police volunteers who helps organize the event each year along with her husband, Dan, and Sgt. Carla Urbigkeit. That organizing includes coordinating with Walmart management and the Department of Human Services, collecting and converting donations from the community as well as inviting agencies from around the county to come participate.
But the heart of the event is something much less rigid than law enforcement.
“The best part of it is (the kids) finding out that the officers have personalities,” said Wilson. “And that they are there for the kids, not only for the bad, but also for the good.”
Walking through the store Saturday morning, officers could be seen donning antlers, playing with the same toys children were looking at and laughing with them. The Toledo Police Department brough McGruff the Crime Dog to meet the children. Santa was at the back of the store to take pictures with the children and listen to their Christmas wishes. One officer, using his phone to calculate his child’s budget, mentioned to another in passing: “This makes me wish I’d paid a little more attention in math.”
“I think the experience is definitely very valuable for these kids who don’t get that opportunity to see us in this type of circumstance, and I think that’s what it’s all about,” said Sheriff Curtis Landers. “When I was back with one of the kids, I knocked some stuff off and he just got a kick out of that — he kept taking me around with the cart to see if I’d do it again.”
Forty-eight children had been partnered with officers and sent into the aisles within the first 30 minutes of the event. At the end of the four-hour window, a total of 97 children had patrolled for presents with officers from Newport, Toledo and Lincoln City police departments, the sheriff’s office and Oregon State Police.
Volunteer gift wrappers represented many different organizations: some were wives of officers, some worked in the courts or as child advocates — all were welcomed to help bring Christmas cheer.
“Some of the kids were talking and said that they had to get up so early that they were going to go home and take naps,” said Wilson. “It’s a full day for them, early in the morning, but it’s a fun day.”