Every year when the children get to the Alcoa Wal-Mart for their Shop With a Cop Christmas shopping day, the spirit of the season becomes evident.
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police Bud Allison Memorial Lodge 9 and community volunteers pair up with a child, who is told to pick out what they want most for their Christmas presents.
And every year, say the officers and volunteers, the children ask first for something for a parent or sibling. While the officers and volunteers are focused on making Christmas brighter for the children, the children are expressing their desire to make Christmas brighter for their loved ones.
Casey Wilburn wanted a new Razor scooter, but he said the roses he got for his mom were his most important purchase.
“The roses are for mom because I love her,” Casey said.
Community volunteers Joe and Jane Andrews said they love seeing what the children pick out for gifts. “We love going back and seeing what they pick out. They’re encouraged to buy for themselves, but they usually buy for family members,” Jane Andrews said.
Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp said Shop With a Cop is a great finale for a year of fundraising efforts by the FOP and the community. “This is what they work so hard for all year around. You look around and see all these children with their bicycles and baby dolls and toys. Listen to the chatter. This is what it’s all about,” he said.
Jarrod Millsaps, Shop With a Cop coordinator and second vice president for the Fraternal Order of Police Bud Allison Lodge 9, said 75 of the 77 students invited came on Saturday morning, and they got to pick out $150 worth of merchandise.
Millsaps said FOP members were pleased with the fundraising considering the tough economy. “This year we never dreamed we would raise this much in this economy. It shows you the people in this community believe in Shop With a Cop and have made it a success.”
Steve Stilts, sponsor of SlimFest, the largest fundraiser for Shop With a Coop, said the day was very special to him and his wife, Donna, again this year.
“This was the fifth year that SlimFest proceeds were able to meet some children’s Christmas needs. Even though SlimFest takes place the first Saturday in August, we are thinking about the smiles we will see on the children’s faces that December. It makes you proud to see the number of law enforcement personnel who share their Saturday morning to support this community program every year. I hope this day sticks in these kids minds forever.”
Stilts said he and FOP were grateful to the SlimFest sponsors who help make the fundraiser happen each year. “I am looking forward to many more years to come,” he said.
Pete Simmons said Shop With a Cop is the kickoff for his holiday season every year. “It makes me realize how fortunate we all are, even in a tough economy,” he said.
Robert Richardson helped Casey Wilburn with this shopping, and said he has belonged to the Bud Allison Lodge 9 of the Fraternal Order of Police for years and helping Shop With a Cop is something he enjoys every year. “It’s enjoyable to see their faces when they pick something out,” he said.
The students couldn’t hide their excitement at getting new toys, and the adults couldn’t hide their enthusiasm as they helped.
Kendall Hume, 6, said her two favorite items were a Tote-n-Go laptop and a Justin Bieber CD. “We had to get Justine Bieber before we got anything else,” corrections officer Luanne Kinder said of Kendall’s purchase.
Isaiah Maynard, 7, said his favorite toy was ‘The Octagon,’ a wrestling ring set. “It’s my favorite thing, really,” he said.
Leland Blackwood of Maryville said he has been helping with Shop With a Cop since 2000. “It’s the highlight of my season just to be with the children and see their eyes light up,” he said. “I think they are our future, and these kids deserve a nice Christmas.”
Blount County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Sgt. Blake Garland and Blount County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Cpl. Robert Bailey were helping with Shop With a Cop. “It’s good to watch the kids buy the stuff they want,” Garland said.
“This is enjoyable for the kids,” Bailey said. “It feels good to watch them have so much fun.”
Blount County Corrections officer Marty Thomas worked with 9-year-old Madison Bradburn. The youngster said her favorite toys were an Oven Play Center, a Little Mommy doll, but her favorite was a Barbie Glam Kitchen, “because it’s fun,” she said.
Hailey Strickland, 8, liked her Nitro Web Notebook and her Doggy Doll, “because I like Pillow Pets.”
Lynn Johnson, a Blount County Sheriff’s Office Senior Outreach volunteer, worked with Hailey. She said she and her husband, Don Johnson, have done Shop With a Cop in the past. “All our kids are grown, and Christmas is not the same without kids,” said Lynn. “Just to see their eyes when they come around the corner in the Toy Department, it gives me goose-bumps.”
Joe Gallagher, Louisville alderman, was one of eight former Louisville Parks and Recreation committee members on hand to help. “This is the most important good thing I do every year. It’s wonderful,” he said.
Gallagher praised the law enforcement officers from Maryville and Alcoa police departments and the Blount County Sheriff’s Office. “They get together and do this for the kids,” he said.