It’s not even mid-November, but members of a local law enforcement group already are thinking about a Christmas gift list with the names of more than 20 underprivileged children.
Each of those youths will wind up receiving a free $150 shopping spree at a local department store — not courtesy of Santa, but the Surry County Chapter of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Every holiday season for the past 25 to 30 years, chapter members have conducted the Cops and Kids shopping event to make sure local children have a brighter Christmas than might be the case otherwise.
Fueled by support from the public, including businesses and individuals, law enforcement personnel meet the kids at Walmart on a designated Saturday to help them pick out presents and enjoy lunch together.
Plans were announced this week for the 2015 version of the shopping trip, which will occur on Dec. 19 beginning at 9 a.m.
Usually, 20 to 25 youths are involved, according to Kelly Hiatt, a retired officer with the Mount Airy Police Department who is the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter.
“We go from five to fifteen,” Hiatt said of their age range.
“We do go through the schools,” Hiatt said of the process for selecting the shopping trip participants. “We get some from the Mount Airy City Schools and some from the county schools.”
The FOP works with guidance counselors to identify those youths most in need, with an emphasis on children who’ve never participated in the Cops and Kids event before and who aren’t receiving help from other sources such as The Salvation Army.
On the day of the shopping spree when everyone meets up at the store, officers are paired up with the youths for the shopping event, which sometimes also includes husbands or wives and other relatives of FOP members.
Of the $150 designated per child, half is spent on necessities such as clothing and the rest on toys or other things the boys and girls want.
Skateboards and helmets, basketballs and other sports equipment, games and dolls are among the preferred items chosen, depending on gender. A special checkout line is designated for the Cops and Kids event at the store.
After the shopping spree, the adults and kids then sit down for lunch provided by Subway and Walmart. The store also sponsors four children for the event that typically ends around noon.
In addition to ensuring a group of local children gets something for Christmas — and the joy of giving accompanying that — the annual Cops and Kids program has a long-term benefit.
It is the rapport and trust established between the two during their shopping experience together.
“They get to know them personally,” Hiatt said of how children are able to see law enforcement personnel in a different light that defies stereotypes.
“It’s a personal interaction in which the kids get the chance to view the officers as people,” Hiatt said.
As a result, a long-lasting impression can be left on the children and their families.
“Parents that I’ve seen years later have talked about it,” Hiatt said Thursday of the shopping excursion.
And as for the youths, “it changes how they deal with officers later on in life.”
Public support vital
Although Walmart sponsors four kids for the event, Hiatt said the local Fraternal Order of Police depends “100 percent” on donations from businesses and individuals to aid the rest.
“Any donations we get, we spend” on the youths, the FOP president assured.
Contributions for the Cops and Kids Christmas shopping event can be mailed to Surry County Fraternal Order of Police, P.O. Box 811, Dobson, NC, 27017.
Hiatt also can be contacted at 429-8480 to arrange sponsorships for the Cops and Kids Christmas shopping campaign or for more information. (Since the youths involved are pre-screened by the schools, that number should not be used to request assistance.)
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.