He rounds the corner aisle, and his eyes light up. To him, the rows and rows of toys are skyscrapers of magic and excitement; anything he can see could be his if he wants it badly enough.
She reaches for jeans and sweaters hung above her head, guided by her mother. They just have to make sure everything is the right size. For her, these are the only Christmas presents Santa will bring.
Texarkana’s annual Shop with a Cop event was held on Dec. 6 at Target.
“The goal of the event is to take less fortunate kids from Texarkana and make sure they get Christmas presents,” TISD police officer Kelly Ryan said.
Approximately 100 children from the Texarkana area were chosen based on financial need and previous interaction with a cop or firefighter. This could mean their home burned down and they were rescued by firefighters, police had to come to their home to deal with their parents, or any other potentially negative interaction they had with local law enforcement.
“With all the tension between law enforcement and the community today, it gives officers a chance to build a relationship with the kids,” patrolman Brent Hobbs said. “The kids know we’re here for them, and we just want to give support and make sure everyone has a successful Christmas.”
These children are given $100 each to spend on anything they like in Target and are accompanied by at least one police officer or firefighter. Last year, only cops accompanied the children on their shopping; this year, these groups were also joined by volunteer civilians and students and staff from Texarkana College.
“The basic premise has been the same since the first time we did this,” Crime Prevention Coordinator Shaun Vaughn said. “But something I think we changed unintentionally is that it’s now more of a community event. I’m just excited about the direction it’s going.”
Many of the children choose to pick out toys and gifts for themselves, but others often need clothes and other necessities more than they do toys.
If this happens, the officers will often use money from out of pocket to cover extra expenses. This is obviously optional, but many of them are more than willing to buy an extra pair of socks or a jacket for the kids to whom they are assigned.
“I’ve had kids in the past who are more concerned about their siblings than anything else,” Ryan said. “At those times, you want to do more for them because they’re only given so much, and you want to make sure their Christmas is as good as everyone else’s.”
The families who participate come in all shapes and sizes; some children are only months old, and the oldest are teenagers. No matter what their age, they all displayed the same amounts of excitement for the event.
“I actually had five kids that I shopped with today,” said Texas A&M police officer Kristy Whisenhunt. “They were very excited, appreciative and said thank you 100 times, so I know they’re just as happy as they can be.”
Though it appears that the biggest benefits are the gifts the children receive, the effects are much greater than that.
“It gives kids the security of another friend,” Target supervisor Eva Hopkins said. “It gives them someone to talk to if they need help. I definitely see a bond forming there.”
Shop with a Cop has been impacting the lives of children and families for almost thirty years in the Texarkana area, and its coordinators don’t plan to stop the event anytime soon.
“We hope to increase our numbers in the next year to 130 kids, potentially,” Vaughn said. “It doesn’t come close to meeting the need we have in the community, but it’s getting closer. Some of the relationships we form here impact more than just one Christmas, and that’s exactly what we want.”