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Shop with a cop to bring Christmas to youth in need

CROWD: Last year's Shop with a Cop turnout smiles for a photo. Officers and the families meet in the Lawn and Garden center of Walmart to get the evening started.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

The annual “Shop with a Cop” is just around the corner, giving the community a chance to participate in giving this Christmas season.

For more than a decade, Huntington County Sheriff Department, Huntington Police Department, every town police department, Indiana State Police and conservation officers have come together to help shop with kids for their Christmas presents. This year the event will take place on Dec. 18.

Sheriff Terry Stoffel explained that they reach out to elementary school counselors in the community to identify children who may not be able to receive gifts for Christmas due to a medical issue, a parent’s loss of a job or other struggles.

Once the counselors identify the needs within the schools, they then give the Sheriff’s Department the names. Stoffel said he then either calls the family or pays a visit to their house to let them know – and he’s never been turned down.

“There’s two or three prongs that go into this: one, we get to help the family out and take care of their needs and make the kids feel good about Christmas. Number two, we try to bridge the gap between the police department and the child, the children,” Stoffel explained.

He added that when they first started doing this event, they took care of six kids and felt pretty good about the accomplishment. Last year, they were able to provide for 48 kids, spending around $120 for each kid.

This year Stoffel was also able to secure a grant from Walmart for $2,500.

He said if anyone in the community is willing to donate money to the cause, they can either give it to any police officer or drop it off in the Sheriff’s Department. Checks should be written out to Walmart, as Stoffel said the officers want to keep their name out of it.

 “If anybody wants to help, we welcome that and the more money we get, the bigger and more we can do,” Stoffel said.

Stoffel explained that half of the money is spent on staples such as boots, winter coats and clothes. For the second half of the money, the kids are able to pick out whatever they want.

Some kids are so excited that they’ll even go to Walmart the day before to have in mind what they want to pick out. Stoffel said as soon as they’re paired up with a cop, their eyes light up.

He said he has stories upon stories of what they’ve been able to provide for kids and how the kids went about picking out their gifts.

He went on to tell a story about a girl around 8-or-9-years-old who picked out a few small things but then started looking at candles and make-up. When questioned for her choices that were a bit out of age range, she explained that what she was looking at wasn’t for her.

“She said, ‘No. It’s not for me. It’s for my mom!’ She said, ‘If I don’t get this for my mom, my mom won’t get anything either,’” Stoffel recounted

He said there have been several instances similar to that girl and he’s seen officers cover the cost of a few presents for parents so children are able to pick out the full amount of money for themselves, or cover the remaining amount if the total goes a little over.

“They often just reach into their pockets and pay the extra or get their mom or their dad something because they won’t be getting something either,” Stoffel said. “So many neat things, it’s a really neat time of the year and I’m really blessed to have so many officers come out.”

Stoffel’s Criminal Justice class will also be helping out this year, as he wants them to see the importance of community pleasing and how kindness can reverberate and show what the cops are really about.

 Following the night of shopping, Stoffel said Walmart provides cookies, cupcakes and punch.