A tradition that started 20 years ago continued Saturday at Wal-Mart in Alcoa. The Shop With a Cop program brought out children whose Christmas list would go unfulfilled without the help of Blount law enforcement, the Fraternal Order of Police, Slimfest and the community.
The children were as jolly as Santa Saturday, however, as each of 120 children got to spend $150 for Christmas.
The shopping spree kicked off about 6:30 a.m. Saturday when officers and children began shopping and ended about 8 a.m. as members of Leadership Blount Class of 2000 put the final wrappings on the purchased gifts.
Wal-Mart manager Boyce Smith praised his associates who helped with the effort. “We have a wonderful group of associates who volunteer their time to help, not only those on the clock, but others as well,” he said. “We enjoy having the kids. It puts our staff in the perspective of what the holidays are all about.”
Even though the children choose the gifts, wrapping them to take home is important, Smith said. This year the Leadership Blount Class of 2000 volunteered and wrapped presents. “It didn’t seem right not to wrap the presents,” Smith said. “One of the greatest things about being a kid is opening presents on Christmas Day.”
Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp and Blount County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Ron Dunn told Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell how Shop With a Cop first started almost 20 years ago.
In 1989, Kevin Morgan was a little boy who came to FOP summer camp. “He was the cutest little kid you ever saw, blond hair and blue eyes,” Crisp remembered. “Every time he would unroll or take from his suitcase a new piece of clothing from home, there would be a note attached to it. ‘We miss you. Sissy misses you. Have a good time. Something from home to keep his spirits up. We thought that was so good.”
The two officers had also had conversations with the mother, Dunn said. “She wanted Kevin to learn how to swim, but she was frightened by the process,” said Dunn. “She wanted to make sure the officers took really good care of him while he was learning how to swim.”
“Back then, we didn’t take as many kids to camp as we do now,” Crisp said. “As a matter of fact, when we first started, there were three groups - the red group, green group and blue group. Ron, Bud Allison and I had pick up trucks -- red, green and blue -- and that’s how we took the kids to camp, so that’s how we named them.”
Crisp said that because there weren’t as many kids, the officers tried to keep up with them after camp was over. In October that year, Kevin’s mother passed away suddenly.
“We read it in the obituaries,” Crisp said. “That year, at each of our Christmas parties, we just passed the hat and collected money. I don’t remember how much, probably $50 or $60. We took Kevin to the old Hill’s Department store and let him pick out his Christmas presents. That was the first Shop with a Cop.”
The next year, they provided Christmas for 10 children. This year, 120.
Steve Stilts, a commercial contractor, is one of the reasons Shop With a Cop has been able to grow. For three years, he has held “SlimFest,” a street party that started out as a 50th birthday party for him with funds going to FOP. In three years, Slimfest has grown to be one of the major fundraisers for Shop With a Cop, and also helps New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center.
Stilts and his wife, Donna, were volunteers on Saturday, helping some of the children shop.
“What a wonderful day,” Stilts said. “Shop With a Cop is always such a joy. It is rewarding to see the appreciation on these children’s faces. We work for many months on raising funds for this special day. There are so many local people and companies that make this happen.”
Stilts said the FOP members also enjoy taking the children shopping. Stilts said that while these are challenging times economically, a little help means a lot to so many people. “Today makes it all worthwhile,” he said of the efforts he and his friends and volunteers made in all their fundraising activities for the FOP’s Shop with a Cop program.
Shoppers were pretty happy, too. Dylan Hurst, 8, of Blount County said he enjoyed the experience. “It was pretty fun,” he said. His sister, Dana Hurst, 6, shared her favorite part of the morning: “Buying stuff,” she said.
An officer and a volunteer worked with each of the 120 children who had $150 each to spend. Sherry Mathis, Friendsville, volunteered to help. “It’s just such a blessing to be able to help these kids,” she said. “It hits home. This is what Christmas is all about. It’s all for the children.”
Dr. David A. Erwin and his wife, Shari, enjoyed helping. “It’s a blessing to see the smiles on their faces,” he said of the children.
Shari Erwin said the little boy they worked with went right to the bicycle he wanted. “We’re blessed,” she said. “This is what it’s all about, the kids.”
Maryville Police officer Brett Hall, the incoming Fraternal Order of Police president, was glad to be at the store, even though it was early on a Saturday. “The way I look at it, there’s no place I’d rather be,” he said. “It shows what’s real important and what the holidays are really about. This is the least I can do.”
Hall said that as the community supports the FOP in their efforts to raise money with events like SlimFest, the officers get to see the good things that money does as they meet the children. “It’s all worth it,” Hall said. “And it’s all supported by the community.”
Blount County deputy Ross Jamerson had a personal reason for wanting to volunteer. “I’ve got three little ones at home. If I couldn’t do something for them, I would hope to God someone would,” he said. “My heart goes out to these children.”
Caela Malone, 8, showed off two gifts she was very proud of. “I’m got a wallet for my brother and an I-Dog,” she said.
Tamera Malone was thankful for the Shop with a Cop. “It’s been such a blessing to my family. It takes a lot of stress and pressure off me. We had a death in the family this week and to let her relax was nice.”
Jarrod Millsaps, community outreach director with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, said, “It’s awesome how the community comes through. Even in times like this, people still come together and make this event happen.”
Stephanie Lewis of Alcoa was thankful for the volunteers. She watched as her daughter enjoyed her toys. “It’s very important, and I’m grateful for people like this, and I hope they can keep raising money to help kids,” Lewis said.
Mervanna Lewis said she got a guitar and Hannah Montana movie.
Tara Rasher volunteered and enjoyed her time. “It’s so great to see the looks on the kids’ faces, and the excitement and the community coming together and providing these presents for the children who might otherwise not have Christmas.”
Ernie Wallace said the children won’t forget their shop with a cop experience. “This is something the kids will never forget,” he said.
Jay Lindsey volunteered to help the youngsters. “I enjoyed doing it,” he said. “It’s such a blessing.”
Lindsey said the youngster he helped wanted to get a bicycle he had already picked out. “When he got, he made sure he had enough to get something for his mother,” Lindsey said.