Sheriff’s department, Meijer partner to give children who might not have much under the tree a special Christmas.
Story by Shandra Martinez
Ever since a boy at her school told Grace Holbrook about his experience Christmas shopping with police last year, the fourth-grader has dreamed of going.
That wish came true this year, and it was far better than anything she could have imagined. The adventure began before Grace even set foot in a store — as she climbed into the front seat of a Kent County Sheriff’s SUV.
Deputy Diana Potter let Grace, 9, and her brother, Sylas, 11, push the buttons to hear the different siren sounds as they waited to take part in a procession of more than a dozen cruisers around the parking lot of the Meijer store.
With sirens blaring and lights flashing, the vehicles arrived one by one at the front entrance of the store, where a line of brown-uniformed and smiling deputies were waiting for the children.
For decades, Meijer has participated in this beloved Shop with a Cop tradition that includes law enforcement organizations across the Midwest. The program provides a holiday treat for children who otherwise might not have much under the Christmas tree. Each child is given $150 with which to purchase coats, boots, clothing, and toys for themselves.
On this Sunday morning, nearly 40 children took part in the custom. Grace shopped with Deputy Scott Shaw and Sylas with Deputy John Shumay.
Sylas was initially a little overwhelmed with the choice of coats. Deputy Shumay helped him find a good deal.
“It’s 70 percent off, and we are styling,” Shumay told Silas as they settled on a puffer-style black coat. Saving money on the jacket meant that, after gathering winter necessities, there was enough left over to buy Legos.
Grace picked winter boots with colorful hearts and a deep purple jacket. A budding artist, she picked out a sketch pad with pencils that she planned to share with her siblings.
“We were within $4 of our budget. We did good because we did our math,” said Deputy Shaw, who patiently helped Grace keep track of their spending and compare prices during their shopping spree.
Meaningful to families
Jessica Miller says she was grateful for the unexpected call from their school inviting Grace and Sylas to take part in the event.
“It meant a lot because we’ve been having some hard times,” said Miller, who was invited to attend the event with the other parents.
Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young credited Meijer with underwriting most of the costs of the department’s Shop with a Sheriff events, which meant more children could participate. This year, about 135 children — ages 5 months to early teens — shopped over two weekends at four Grand Rapids-area stores.
For the sheriff’s department, the annual holiday event is a way to build positive relationships with the community — especially among families who might have had encounters with law enforcement during a crisis situation.
“It makes a big difference,” said LaJoye-Young, who has been participating in the program for more than two decades. “It gives us an opportunity to have positive contact that shows, ‘we care about you.’”
A waiting list to take part
The tradition is so popular among Kent County Sheriff’s Department staff — including those who work in patrol and at the jail — that there is a waiting list to take part in the volunteer event.
“They actually look forward to it,” said LaJoye-Young, who came to watch the fun. “It’s so competitive, I’m an alternate. I didn’t get picked.”
Meijer members at the Plainfield Avenue store also volunteer to help out. A few years ago, the store’s team decided to make the event even more festive by adding a visit with Santa, a gift-wrapping table and treats, and inviting the local high school choir to sing carols.
Store Director Gabe Ensenat says he looks forward to seeing the children’s excited faces as they shop.
“A lot of times, the kids are buying for their brothers and sisters, and even their mom and dad,” Ensenat said.
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