It’s every kid’s fantasy: going into a department store and being able to select toys and other merchandise for free.
But that dream will become reality on Dec. 16, when a group of local youngsters is treated to a shopping spree at Walmart in Mount Airy courtesy of the annual Cops and Kids Christmas program — made possible by public donations.
Not only will youths be able to pick out “fun” items as well as clothing or other necessities, they’ll do so with assistance by law enforcement officers from across the county who participate in the charitable event sponsored by the Surry Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). It has been a part of the holiday scene locally for around 30 years.
“We usually have about 20 kids,” said Kelly Hiatt, a retired Mount Airy Police Department officer and longtime FOP member who spearheads the Cops and Kids effort. They tend to range in age from 5 to 15.
Last December, the youngsters were accompanied by around 15 law enforcement officers. In addition to Chief Dale Watson and other city police, their ranks included members of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office; the Dobson, Pilot Mountain and Elkin police departments; the N.C. Highway Patrol; Surry Community College campus police; and probation/parole personnel.
The way the shopping outing works is simple: Youths, selected for the excursion through local schools and The Salvation Army, will gather at Walmart at 9 a.m. on the designated day in December. And they and the participating officers will be unleashed on its various departments.
“We spend a total of $150,” per child, Hiatt explained. Half of that goes for necessities or other basic items they might want. The youths are free to spend the other half as they see fit, which Hiatt said typically has included skateboards, dolls, games and sports equipment.
“It’s an assortment,” he said.
After a couple of hours or so of shopping, the kids and adults will share a lunch provided by Subway, with chips, drinks and candy supplied by Walmart.
“They usually dedicate a special checkout lane for us,” Hiatt said of the various amenities offered by store officials to make the event a success.
Contributions a key
While the annual Cops and Kids event might be the stuff dreams are made of, it is dictated by cold financial realities.
It costs about $3,000 to fund the shopping spree, which the Fraternal Order of Police depends on local businesses and individuals to provide through donations.
“That’s the only way we can really do it,” Hiatt said of conducting the event.
In addition to helping ensure a bright Christmas for the participating youths, supporters of the Cops and Kids program recognize its long-term benefits to society.
This includes the positive relationships the generations of kids who’ve been involved build with the officers through their interactions while shopping, Hiatt said, which hopefully will carry into adulthood. They learn to see police as caring residents of the community rather than uniformed personnel who exist simply to make arrests.
Contributions for the Cops and Kids Christmas shopping event can be mailed to Surry County Fraternal Order of Police, P.O. Box 811, Dobson, NC, 27017.
Hiatt also can be contacted at 429-8480 to arrange sponsorships for the campaign or for more information. (Since the youths involved are pre-screened, that number should not be used to request assistance.)
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.