AVON — Christmas provides local police officers with an opportunity each year that they relish: stepping away from their normal routine to help make families’ holidays a little brighter.
This past weekend, a Fraternal Order of Police tradition was continued when the Shop with a Cop event was held at the Meijer store in Avon.
Families in need of assistance during the holiday season sign up for the event, which allows them to receive $100 worth of Christmas gifts for each of their children. Police officers volunteer their time to help the families pick out gifts.
Organizers say the event grows each year, but the tough economic times the country is experiencing right now made this year’s event even more important. More than 230 children were helped out during this year’s event.
“I think it’s neat to go out and interact with (the families) because a lot of people see us in a different light when we get called out for a burglary, theft, or domestic, and I like being in a relaxed setting to get t know them, talk to the kids, and let them know that if they ever need help to look for someone dressed like me,” said Christi Patterson, chief of the Pittsboro Police Department.
Patterson has been a part of the event on and off for years and participated in the very first one held in Hendricks County. She’s been a police officer for 23 years, and has seen Shop with a Cop grow from about 100 children to what it is now.
She said being able to interact in a unique way with the children is the highlight for all of the officers.
“I have a blast,” Patterson said. “It’s just so much fun. They’re shy at first, but then they warm up to us. They want to show you the toys they picked.”
In addition to the funny questions the children ask, Patterson said she is always touched by their kindness as well.
“One girl, this was years ago, one that I will always remember, came in with her mom who was pregnant,” Patterson said. “They had nothing for the baby and she used her money to buy a cradle and toys for the baby. When she got down to about $20 left, I told her we were going to the toys to pick something out for her.”
David Younce, president of the Hendricks County FOP, said Shop with a Cop is something they look forward to each year.
“My way of thinking is that Christmas is about children,” he said. “(It’s great to see) the joy on their faces and the innocence that they have with it, and to be able to help out kids who may otherwise not be able to have as good of a Christmas. It always amazes me, when you try to get them to pick out something for them, and they want their mom or their little brother to get something. It’s very humbling and brings you back to a place where Christmas was all about giving and the innocence of a child.”
Officers from every agency in the county were represented Sunday, as well as Indiana State Police and even federal agents.
“I think all police officers like to give back, but this is Christmas,” Patterson said. “It’s the season, and I didn’t see one officer not smiling that day. It brings out (a different side) because when we’re at work, we don’t necessarily have good days every day and every call we get isn’t necessarily a good call, and to walk in and see some officers that I haven’t seen in awhile ... every single one of them has a smile on their face. It’s just great.”