“Shop With A Cop” is an annual tradition in southern Orange County, pitting impoverished children with a member of law enforcement for a holiday shopping spree. The program is funded by local businesses and brings a smile to all involved, and establishes camaraderie between officers and young people.
This year, on Friday, Dec. 9, the program made its first appearance in Hillsborough, with ten children from Central Elementary getting the thrill of a Walmart shopping spree bankrolled by local businesses and personalities such as Bacon’s Meat Market, Sam Coleman, Rob Maitland of Maitland LLC, Gary Blackwood of Blackwood Landscaping, Braxton Tire, and NC representative Graig Meyer.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough Police Department, and Orange County Optimist Club teamed up with law enforcement from southern Orange County and the Chapel Hill Optimist Club to bring in several buses to Walmart that day, and combined forces to bring smiles to dozens of kids throughout the county.
“We just wanted to add to what had already been done,” OCSO deputy Teresa Kernodle said, “and we were just trying to reach out to more children.”
Kernodle, who works in the community services department of the Sheriff’s Office, said that the program got something of a late start in the Hillsborough area this year, which is why they were limited to ten children from Hillsborough’s Central Elementary School. She says they are working hard to expand the event for next year, having had such a special experience this year.
“It was wonderful,” Kernodle said of the day. “So often in what we do, whether it’s true or not, it feels like we take away from people, or make people sad, or encounter people when they’re having a really bad day. Some of the kids were like, ‘I’ll go with you,’ with kind of a tough guy attitude. And you get to know them and next thing you know you’re turning the corner and they’re yelling your name by the end of the day. I almost cried as they drove away.”
Many of those who sponsored the shopping spree for kids actually came to the event along with a throng of law enforcement officers, making it an incredible scene for those who witnessed it.
“We raised the money to be able to take them there this year,” Kernodle said. “It’s hard, because everybody struggles to try and have enough for their own families. We were graciously given the money once people found out what we were trying to do. Some even participated, coming with us to meet the kids. The kids started opening up, and it was more than what was in their basket that they were excited about.”
Those who got to know the kids spoke highly of the bonds that were formed that day, and look forward to what this might mean for the future.
“I hope to keep track of these kids, and see if maybe we can check in with them next year,” Kernodle said. “And hopefully they’ll remember us, and we can keep up with them in the long term. We can check back in and say hey, and it’s a bond we continue over time.”
“I love the ways that Sheriff Blackwood [and local law enforcement] builds trust with the community,” Meyer said. “Law enforcement is easier and more effective when you’re close with the people that you serve and protect. Things like this really help.”
There are already plans in the works for a similar and expanded event next year, with the hopes of eventually reaching as many kids as possible.