There was snow falling Saturday morning Dec. 5 when law enforcement officers and emergency service personnel led a parade of school buses to Wal-Mart in Alcoa for the annual Shop with a Cop event.
The shopping spree is organized by members of the Bud Allison Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and gives underprivileged children between the ages of 6 and 10 the chance to do Christmas shopping, with help from law enforcement officers and community volunteers.
Jarrod Millsaps with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office said 100 students were invited and 94 showed for the cold morning of fun. “We couldn’t have asked for any better thing for Christmas than having snow on the ground on the way to Wal-Mart,” he said.
Millsaps said the students met at the Justice Center and rode on buses provided by W.C. Huffman. “We had lights and sirens blaring at 6 a.m. Once we got to Wal-Mart, the kids were given $150 each and paired with law enforcement and some individuals in the community who wanted to volunteer their time,” Millsaps said. “They could buy things for themselves or siblings or family members.”
Millsaps said a large portion of funding for Shop With a Cop comes from SlimFest, the annual community concert organized by Steve “Slim” Stilts. Rocky Branch Community Center also holds a bluegrass benefit each year that provides funding. In addition, people in the community generously support the effort, he said.
“It started in 1989 with one child and has grown to what we have this year,” Millsaps said.
Millsaps said the event is not only good for the students but it’s good for officers participating because they get to have positive interaction with the children. “Some of the children have dealt with law enforcement in a negative situation where parents or family were involved. This has law enforcement doing what we’re called to do - helping people and getting to know children better. Hopefully, it makes a difference.”
Millsaps said parents/guardians of students ages 6 to 10 apply to participate in the program. “Once they submit an application, we mainly go off each application. We look for referrals from schools or guidance counselors or School Resource Officers or officers who are generally associated with each child. That’s how we prioritize,” he said.
Millsaps said organizers had a record number of applications this year. “We had 165 or 166 applications, which was a huge number,” he said. “We wish we could have taken everyone. It’s unfortunate we can’t, but we were able to take 100 kids.”
Steve Stilts said he enjoyed helping with the annual event. “This day is always a joyful experience, watching the children do their Christmas shopping,” he said. “These children would not have much of a Christmas without the Shop with a Cop program. SlimFest has been a sponsor of this special day for the past four years. Thanks to all of the great support for SlimFest, we have been able to donate over $100,000 and help over 500 children.”
SlimFest started out as a way for Stilts to celebrate his birthday while also giving the community an opportunity to support charity. “We are already making plans for the fifth annual SlimFest that will be held Aug 7 in the New Midland Plaza. SlimFest has always benefitted the local Shop with a Cop and has worked with New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center for the past three years,” he said. “Next year, SlimFest will still be benefiting the Shop with a Cop program, but will also be expanding to some other local charities in the Blount County area.”