Christmas came early Wednesday for about 100 area youngsters who participated in the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s annual “Santa Cop” event at Target on Blairs Ferry Road.
The program is sponsored by the Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity, which pays for the items via donations, and officers give their time to help children shop needed cold-weather items, including coats, snow boots, gloves and winter hats.
“Santa Cop” started about 17 years ago with a few officers who saw a need and funded the shopping spree themselves, said Charity Hansel, Cedar Rapids school resource officer. Now, the event has grown to include two events — one during the holiday season and another “Shop with a Cop” event at the end of summer for back to school supplies — dozens of officers and hundreds of kids.
“This is the highlight of our year, for the officers and the kids,” Hansel said. “It’s a great opportunity for our officers to get involved in the community in a way that is positive and fun, and it’s a way for us to have positive interactions with kids and build those relationships.”
Hansel said officers raise money throughout the year to support the two shopping events and donate their time to take the kids shopping.
For Cedar Rapids school resource officer Shannon Sampson, “Santa Cop” is all about making kids smile.
“I look forward to this every year,” she said. “Taking the kids shopping, seeing the smiles on their faces and making sure they have what they need for the winter, it’s a nice break from all the negative stuff we see on the job and a chance for kids to have a positive experience with police officers.”
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For Cedar Rapids Police Community Action Team officer Lucas Liddle, taking area kids shopping is about building relationships.
“Seeing how excited these kids can get about a new coat, it’s really touching to be a part of that,” he said. “We’re making memories here, and when that kid puts on that new coat, he’s going to think about the fun we had shopping, and he will remember that experience.”
For many of the families participating, the event meant their children would be comfortable and protected this winter in cozy coats and warm boots.
“It’s such a blessing,” said Debra Frazier. “I feel like I want to cry. I’m just so thankful to the police officers for doing this.”
Frazier was there with her grandchildren, Xavier, 6, and Milania, 5. Frazier said the children’s father, her son, has cancer and, despite her own health problems, she has been trying to help with the kids.
“It’s hard,” she said. “We’re both trying to do the best we can, but it’s hard, so this is a big help.”
Xavier and Milania were paired up with Marion school resource officer Tom Daubs, who helped them pick out coats, boots and other cozy items.
“It’s really an amazing thing that the Cedar Rapids Police Department puts this together every year,” he said. “And I’m so excited and thankful that they invited me to be a part of it. This is what it’s all about — seeing how happy those kids are to get new coats and the smiles on their faces — it’s great.”
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For Chasity Blair, a single mother who receives disability benefits, keeping up with the needs of her quickly growing children is a challenge.
“This is really nice that they want to help families that need help,” she said of the officers. “The kids grow so fast, every six months to a year they need new stuff, and it’s hard to keep up, and it’s really nice to have some help. Being a single mom is difficult, and we really needed this help.”
Blair’s children, Jose, 10, and Kayla, 17, were paired with officers Liddle and Sampson, respectively, for their shopping adventure.
As they walked around the store, officer Liddle and Jose chatted about school and Pokemon cards as they wound their way up and down the aisles picking out a winter coat, snow pants, snow boots, gloves and a hat. At the same time, Kayla and officer Sampson went in search of winter tights, socks and snow boots.
At the end, both kids got a chance to pick out a Christmas toy. Jose went with a Nerf dart gun, and Kayla chose a board game.
“We look forward to doing this every year,” said Sherri Hawkins, Cedar Rapids police records supervisor. “It’s one of our favorite things to do. It really helps to recharge the officers’ batteries, and we get to take away great stories and experiences with these kids.”
Police officers in Iowa City held their department’s annual shopping trip with children on Tuesday, according to a city news release. Officers shopped at Target in Coralville with 35 children for the “Holiday with Heroes” event. The program is made possible by donations from area organizations and businesses.
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