In early December, kids, guardians and law enforcement gathered at the Shawnee, Oklahoma, Walmart for Christmas cheer at the end of a very long and challenging year. The annual Shop with a Cop event gives children in need the chance to pick out gifts with a member of area police forces, including Citizen Potawatomi Nation officers. The event’s organizer, Kenny Williams, looks forward to it every year.
“I think it’s a great environment for the kids to get to see the police officers in … and get to realize that, ‘Hey, they really are our friends; they’re here to help us.’ And gives them that opportunity to build that bond as well as provide them a Christmas that most of those kids probably would not get anything had it not been for the community of Shawnee pitching in like they do,” he said.
In 2020, Shop with a Cop raised more than $13,500 with the help of 16 organizations, including Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Junior Service League of Shawnee, Shawnee Community Foundation and many local businesses and entrepreneurs. The generous donations provided enough to give more than 130 participants from various local community organizations a $100 Walmart gift card to spend as they wished.
“We’re grateful for what (CPN) did,” Williams said. “They helped a lot of kids. … They were one of the very biggest contributors, so we appreciate that greatly.”
The event collected more money than ever before, which allowed it to help a record number of families since Shop with a Cop began in the area more than 10 years ago.
“I thought it was going to be just the opposite — there’d be more kids in need, and I’d have less funds available. And it was just the opposite this year. We were able to raise even more funds. … I know a lot of people have gone without,” Williams said.
Officers in a new light
Two Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Police Department officers attended, along with 26 others across seven local departments. Officer Orrin Beckham joined the Tribe’s force in January 2020. He and his family previously lived in Texas, and his sons received the opportunity to shop as participants.
“It’s close to home,” Beckham said.
“Just to get out and help families do some shopping for Christmas, helping the younger generations is always enjoyable for me.”
Many officers immediately thanked Williams for hosting Shop with a Cop as they picked out toys or went to the register. He also woke up to emails of gratitude the next day.
“I bet I had at least a dozen or so of them come up to me and just tell me how important they feel them being there is. Just because they realize what environment a lot of times some of these children see them in, and it kind of puts them in a negative view in that child’s eyes,” he said.
Lining the aisles
As everyone waited patiently for their turn to look at toys with an officer, Williams took his megaphone and asked, “Who’s ready to shop with a cop?” followed by a round of applause and cheering. He makes a point of meeting everyone, usually as groups check out, and ensures they had a good time.
“There’s a lot of toys I want to just hop right in and play with them,” he said. “I seen the Nerf gun, and I seen a Wii come through, and I was like, ‘Shoot. I think I want to go home and play with you all for the evening.’ … I’m still just a big ol’ kid at heart.”
Many participants buy items strictly for fun, but Williams has also noticed underwear, socks and toothbrushes fill some baskets since he took over the Shawnee event in 2013.
“When you see them actually buying stuff that they need and not want, that’s the ones that you just kind of sit there and realize how blessed you are that you’ve got a roof over your head and food in your belly and clothes on your back,” he said.
Williams also makes a point of teaching the participants how to “pay it forward.” He awards two shoppers a $25 gift card that they pass on to someone else in the store. He started the tradition in 2019.
“I always remind them that the community was so generous to all of us to make this event happen, that we want to make sure that we pay that forward to someone else,” he said.
Throughout the last decade, Shop with a Cop went from helping approximately 35 children in 2009 to celebrating Christmas with 136 in 2020. Williams hopes the substantial growth continues while he fundraises and organizes the event.
“If we can grow 10, 20, 25 percent each year, then that’s that many more kids in the community that we can help when they need the help,” he said. “I think that benefits that child now, and it can benefit them in the long run — maybe if one of these kids eventually want to be part of the program on the other side of it.”
Contact Kenny Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about Shop with a Cop. Visit the CPN Police Department online at cpn.news/police.