A boy contemplates a Nerf Fire Blaster.
Another child and an officer test out a football.
Another officer carries an Imaginext tower and Fantastic Gymnastics toys as a boy looks through some more toys.
A series of such scenes played out at the Walmart in Orange as part of the police department’s annual Shop with a Cop event, which hosted 30 kids for an evening of buffalo wings, photos with Santa and a shopping adventure with Orange Police officers.
“I think this is the biggest turnout of our officers and the biggest turnout of the kids that we’ve ever had,” said City of Orange Police Association President Dan Norman.
More than 30 officers met with the children selected by the Friendly Center in Orange – which provides programs to low-income families – on Dec. 13 in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings at The Village at Orange. Parents dropped off their kids, who were each matched up to one or more OPD officers.
“It’s an opportunity for the officers to interact with the kids on a positive note,” said OPD Chief Tom Kisela, adding that it’s also an opportunity for the officers to experience the generosity of these children – the kids often purchase gifts for their family members, not just themselves.
It also allows for a partnership with local restaurants and retailers like Walmart, which donated a $100 gift card to each child, Wild Buffalo Wings, which donated a buffet dinner to the officers and children, and The Village at Orange, which donated photos with Santa inside the mall. The police association covered any overages past the $100 gift card for each child. Plus, at the end of the event parents received an extra $25 Walmart gift card for themselves, and the kids also received a stuffed teddy bear from Kay Jewelers and a police department coloring book.
“It’s that Christmas time of year,” said Kisela, who brought his own kids to help out. “I’m a firm believer in being kind, being generous and helping those who aren’t as fortunate as us.” After the children finished eating some wings with the officers, they headed to the mall for some Christmas cheer – photos with Santa and a ride on the indoor mall train. They then trickled into the Walmart for some shopping. The toy section was where a lot of the action took place.
“This is just our way as a police department, coming together to help the community,” said Augie Rocha, a senior police officer with the OPD and Shop with a Cop coordinator. “It’s giving back to the community we serve. That’s what it comes down to.”
Some members of the Orange City Council were also at the event, enjoying the company of the officers and kids.
“I’m amazed with the turnout, the level of support from the community as well as the police department,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Murphy.
He said spending time with officers at an event like this can be something that may impact the kids as they grow up.
“Those first impressions can impact you the rest of your life,” he said.
Orange City Council member Fred Whitaker said: “I’m just so impressed with our police officers for organizing it. … We have to teach young people … that the police officers and the city, they’re like your family too. … They have your back.”
Jasmin Denova, 9, certainly had a good time shopping.
“It was fun,” she said after the event with all her new purchases. “I got a doll, a baby.”
Det. Mike Sellers, who was one of Denova’s shopping buddies, said, “I think some of these kids get to see us from a different light.”
Sellers, who was previously event coordinator, is in his sixth year of participating in the event.
“Just see the look on their faces – it’s worth it,” he said.