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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Faces and Places -- Shop 'til you drop -- with a cop

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Walmart parking lot in Thayer was filled with all manner of law enforcement vehicles on Saturday, Dec. 10, although there was no emergency inside the store.

Instead, 20 area police officers, conservation agents, emergency medical technicians and firefighters were shopping with children most of them had never met. The merriment was part of the annual Shop With A Cop event.

Thayer Police Chief David Bailey, who helped organize the local event, said 101 children were treated to the free, one-day shopping spree this year.

Throughout the year, several area agencies hold fundraisers for the Shop With A Cop program, which is an opportunity for area low-income youngsters to buy Christmas gifts for themselves. Residents also contribute money for the program, Bailey said.

"Sometimes when we're in Walmart, people will give us money for next year," Bailey said, thanking all who donated.

The Mammoth Spring Area Chamber of Commerce contributed a hefty amount this year, he said. Funds also were raised through a rifle raffle and at a dunking booth where people paid for chances to "throw cops in the water," Bailey said.

When all the funds were divvied up, each child had $60 to spend, which is about average. Some years, the amount has been as high as $70, depending on the number of children and money raised.

The recipients are selected from applicants, age 2-12, who aren't already participating in other similar programs or who have not attended more than three years. Applications are taken in November each year. Then, the fun begins.

"Some people come to Walmart that day just to watch us because they enjoy it," Thayer Police Department Lt. McDaniel said of the shopping frenzy.

Starting at 10 a.m., children are matched with officers who escort them through the store.

Up and down each aisle, officers helped children compare prices, search for toys and make their purchases.

"We tell them, 'You buy what you want,'" Bailey said.

It doesn't always turn out that way, however, Bailey said. Often, the children come in looking for necessities or gifts for their parents or siblings.

"It can be heartbreaking," Bailey said.

One young girl that Bailey shopped with this year bought only clothes. Another child bought a box of cereal.

McDaniel said he "didn't get to do a whole lot of shopping this year" because he was busy keeping track of youngsters as they arrived.

All six of Thayer's officers and dispatchers participated this year, as well as officers from the Mammoth Spring, Winona and Mountain View police departments, Thayer Fire Department, Oregon County Juvenile Division, U.S. Forestry Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri State Highway Patrol and area ambulance services.

All the officers donated their time, which consists of about an hour and a half of actual shopping time, Bailey said. Each volunteer helped at least four children pick out items to buy.

Thayer Police Department dispatcher Jason Romine said he has enjoyed the Shop With A Cop event all seven years he has been with the department.

"It's fun to see them get the stuff they wanted," Romine said. "You knew they weren't going to get it anywhere else."