After a Walmart shopping session on Saturday, Mount Airy Police Officer Gerald Daniel and 8-year-old Kehau Kapuni hung out for a few minutes and just talked.
“Is it hard to be a cop?” Kehau asked.
“Well, sometimes it is,” Daniel replied.
Their positive interaction demonstrated one of the benefits of “Cops and Kids,” a Christmas program run by the Surry County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
The key component of the event is a shopping spree funded by donations from the community.
Participating kids screened for eligibility through the school systems shop with an officer from one of the county’s many agencies and get to pick out $150 worth of items, both essentials and fun stuff.
“The whole idea is to give them a Christmas they might not otherwise have,” said Kelly Hiatt, a retired officer with the Mount Airy Police Department and FOP president.
“The second is to put them in touch with law enforcement,” he added. “Sometimes it’s their first positive experience with law enforcement.”
Bob Hodge, vice president of FOP, said 18 children shopped at this year’s event.
“We’ve had as many as 22 in past years,” he said. “Hopefully that means the economy is getting better.”
Pairs of officers and kids made their way through the aisles at Walmart, trying on shoes and picking out clothing items, typically saving the best for last: the toy section.
Jontae Easter, 13, enjoyed “all of it,” he said. “I can’t put it into words.”
An hour or so into the event, full shopping buggies indicated that the primary objective of the event had been fulfilled.
“We just want to thank the businesses and individuals who donated to this,” Hiatt said. “Every bit is donations.”
But the time spent filling those carts proved just as precious, for the officers as well as the children.
“I think it’s more rewarding when you’re actually with the kids,” said Jodie Beketov, who is a dispatcher for the Mount Airy Police Department.
“It’s more personal,” she said. “I think it means a lot more to them. They get to see the good side of police.”
Daniel noted that sometimes the children’s only experience with law enforcement involves the arrest of a parent, which can be traumatic.
“You don’t want them to be afraid,” he said.
The shopping trip gives cops and kids the chance to build a relationship.
“I try to keep in touch with them,” Daniel said of the children he’s been paired with. “I want these kids to run to me, not from me.”
Many officers volunteer year after year for “Cops and Kids.”
“It’s personally rewarding,” Hodge said, noting that many officers bring their own children to the event.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said.
Mount Airy Police officer George Daughenbaugh and his 15-year-old daughter have been participating every year for nearly a decade.
His wife comes too if she doesn’t have to work.
“We’ve got the whole family here,” he said.
David Edmonds, chaplain for the Pilot Mountain Police Department, is another long time “Cops and Kids” volunteer.
“I love doing this,” he said, and when asked why, he gestured to a smiling youngster.
“Right there,” he said. “That’s what Christmas is all about. Seeing their little eyes light up, that’s worth every minute.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.