JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - If you see several law enforcement officers with children in their cruiser early on a Saturday morning, don't be alarmed! Chances are it's all part of "Shop with a Cop."
The ninth annual event, happening Saturday, Dec. 3, at 8 a.m., allows a rare opportunity for children in foster care or other at-risk youth personal interaction with area law enforcement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
"Shop with a Cop was brought to our club from the late Russell Patton who heard about the idea in a regional Rotary meeting in California," Mark Morrow, Rotary Club member said. "He brought it to our club, and we adopted it through the direction from club member and past president, Thom Beasley."
Morrow claims the late Thom Beasley pushed the project forward.
"Thom got me involved in its first year, and I have been there ever since," Morrow said.
Children benefiting from "Shop with a Cop" are identified by school officials and student resource officers, or SRO's.
"The goal is to help those children that would have a limited Christmas experience, who might also have had some negative dealings with police and other authority figures," Morrow said. "It is about so much more than the $100 that we put in a bank change purse. It has everything to do with having a good, fun and exciting experience with a police office in a one-on-one dealing. When done right, the officer can get as much or more out of it than the kids do."
Rotary Club of Jonesboro plans to sponsor 40 kids this year with $2,000 of the club's money and $2,000 in the form of a Rotary District Grant. Each child gets to spend $100 in cash.
"The FOP is instrumental in this effort and the past 2-3 years, and this year for certain, they have helped take this to a new level of service," Morrow said. "The FOP has adopted this program as their own and they are leading it. They have contacted the schools to seek out the most needing in the area, so as to try to make the biggest and best impact they can. They have allowed us to use their private lodge for our reception and direction of the group. They bring these kids into speak and let them see how it is to just mingle with officers and other adults in a positive environment. Without the full and on-board cooperation from the FOP, this would not happen!"
Other businesses and individuals also work to make the event a success.
Chick-fil-A provides breakfast for each child and officer coming into the restaurant that morning. Hays Food Store provides a jump-start to the day with donuts and drinks. Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) members not only help; but also sponsor a few kids. Law enforcement officers, acting on their own, have been known to reach into their wallet and help the child when they go over their limit of $100. Academy Sports gives each child a $10 gift card. Gigi's Cupcakes gives free cupcakes to children participating in "Shop with a Cop."
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