Even before the sun rose Monday, Dec. 7, Santa Claus was ringing bells and shaking hands, Anaheim police officers were dressed in full uniform and 55 red carts lined up in front of Target like the beginning of a NASCAR race.
Welcome to the 3rd Annual Shop With a Cop charity outreach, which selects children in need from Anaheim to enjoy an hour-long shopping spree with an Anaheim police officer.
Anaheim Police Department Sgt. Steve Pena, who helped launch the nonprofit Cops 4 Kids, which hosts the Shop With a Cop event, said children are hand-picked by members of the police department.
“We know the kids,” Pena said. “We know their struggles at home. They’re selected by us.”
This year’s Shop With a Cop at Target on Euclid in Anaheim featured 55 Anaheim Police Department personnel matched with a child in need. Each of the children was given a $100 Target gift card to splurge while cruising around the store with their new best buddy.
“One kid was affected by a fire,” Reyna Rosales of the Anaheim PD Community Services Program said. “His family’s apartment burned down and they lost everything, so he’s really excited about this.”
Rosales said the police department discovered that the family’s apartment had burned down when volunteers tried to deliver a Thanksgiving meal to the family through the Community Services Program’s Operation Turkey Leg. A daughter in the family, Marisol Burciaga, won the meal for her family based on good grades and attendance at school.
“So we (delivered) their Thanksgiving meal to them,” Rosales said. “They are living in a motel room in Buena Park. We saw what was going on in that room, and that’s how we came to choose (the boy). The sister received the Thanksgiving meal and now the brother is here in Shop With a Cop.”
The Anaheim family, with a mother, father and three children, “lost everything except for a bird,” Rosales said.
Carmela Mendoza of the Anaheim PD’s Community Services Program said that the Anaheim First Christian Church donates 150 Thanksgiving meals each year, and her department collaborates on the effort each year.
Another participant in the Shop With a Cop, 6-year-old Anthony Tomas, purchased a pillow, toothbrush and two cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. “He (sleeps) on the floor (where he lives) and doesn’t have a pillow or toothbrush,” Anaheim PD Sgt. Jake Gallacher said. “He also bought a blanket for his mom so she can stay warm.”
When viewing the inventory in the cart, Tomas picked up the pillow, looked up at Gallacher and asked, “Can I use it tonight?”
Tomas, who said he’s “turning 7 in one week,” added that he wanted regular toothpaste, and “not spicy toothpaste.”
Of the 55 children selected, 10 came from Cops 4 Kids, 25 from the Anaheim PD Junior Cadet Program, 10 from the Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership and 10 from the nonprofit My Safe Harbor, which is focused on single moms and provides parenting classes.
“Some of our Shop With a Cop participants are living in more challenging areas, and when you ask them what they want for Christmas, some say a pair of shoes,” Anaheim PD officer Leslie Vargas said.
“This is an awesome event,” added police citizen volunteer Cathy Dutton. “My favorite part is when they get to meet the officers, and they ask them what do you do? What do you want for Christmas? The connection is awesome.”
“Some kids get things for themselves, and a lot get things for their families,” Anaheim PD Senior Volunteer Patrol member Don Smith said. “One year a kid got dog shampoo, and dog food for his dog.”
Another member of the volunteer patrol, Julie Kline, said she loves to see officers helping young girls to pick out clothes and shoes. “It’s really special,” she said.
For some police officers, shopping for girls’ clothes is a first in their life.
“Shopping with young girls is foreign to me,” quipped Anaheim PD officer JC Carey, whose participating child, Giannelli Zeferino, seemed blissfully content shopping in the girls’ clothing department. “The first thing Giannelli wanted was something for her mother.”
Zeferino, a seventh-grader at Ball Junior High and a regular participant in the Girls’ GRIP Program, chose a new pair of jeans for herself.
For Anaheim PD Investigator Jon McClintock, a veteran at Shop With a Cop, having served all three years for Anaheim’s event after doing it for many years with the Rialto Police Department, took home the prize of the biggest-sized Nerf gun purchase, thanks to 10-year-old Luis Sanchez.
When a child’s overall purchases exceed $100, the officer in charge usually forks over the rest to satisfy the bill.
The winner in the 2015 Shop With a Cop, in terms of donating the most toward a single tab, was Lt. Bob Dunn at $95.71. Pena was second at $87.80 and Gallacher third at $69.03. In total, Anaheim PD officers contributed over $1,300 to the cause.