By John L. Braese
During the busy holiday season, every shopper needs a helping hand. This may be a friendly store clerk, an on time delivery person, or a friend with a Suburban to haul that large item.
For 30 children, help in picking out that right gift came from a local law enforcement officer as Shop With a Cop occurred on Saturday, Dec. 3.
The young shoppers, 15 from Idaho and 15 from Oregon, teamed up with staff from Ontario Police Department, Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, Nyssa Police Department, Snake River Correctional Institution, Oregon State Police and Citizens on Patrol along with numerous Idaho agencies at the Ontario Walmart.
Each child was given a budget of $75 with $25 set aside for winter clothing and the remaining money for gifts for family members. After a breakfast supplied by the store, the young shoppers were assigned an officer or two and hit the aisles looking for bargains.
Luis, a 12-year old from Ontario, was looking for a coat for himself with his helper, Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau.
“After I find one, I am looking for presents for my two sisters and my brother,” Luis said.
Zoey, an 8-year old, had her eye on a Barbie Spydome for herself and then was off looking for a gift for her mom and two brothers.
“My brothers have been kind of good this year,” she said as she walked through the toy aisles.
Zoey was accompanied by employees from the state prison.
For the first time in the event’s history, young shoppers were outnumbered by law enforcement helpers.
“It is a nice problem to have,” said event coordinator Laurie Smith, who works for Lifeways. “We were able to up the number of kids that could attend due to a grant from Walmart. We also received a donation from the Payette class of 1972 and donations from SRCI in addition to fundraising we have done throughout the year. Even with the extra kids, we still have two or three officers helping out each child.”
The children participating were chosen by organizers after reaching out to local school districts, state and social service organizations.
The event has taken place since 2000. As the years have passed, a friendly rivalry has grown among the law enforcement agencies over which organization has the largest number of participants.
“We have nine staff here this morning,” said Rau. “They are here on their own time, unpaid, helping out. This is a great program and Nyssa supports us 100 percent.”
Rau and his staff mingled with staff from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies before taking to the aisles.
“This is a great program,” said Sheriff Brian Wolfe. “All my staff here this morning asked to be here and are excited to help out.”
After the shopping was completed, volunteers wrapped the presents while the shoppers took a moment to sit on Santa’s lap.