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‘Shop With a Cop’ brings holiday joy

While the St. Francois County Shop With a Cop program has helped children in need for the past 26 years who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas, the program has been so much more for those during tragedy.

On Dec. 2, the Gidden family lost everything they owned in a house fire and during this tragedy, the community and beyond pulled together to help support them in their time of need.

On Tuesday, Paityn Gidden, 8, was invited to come out and shop with an officer who was there the evening of the fire.

St. Francois County Deputy Jeremy Bowles was one of the first to arrive at the burning home that night, so he made it a point to take Paityn shopping during Shop With a Cop Tuesday at Farmington Walmart.

Her mom Deanna Gidden said this was their first time participating in Shop With a Cop.

“Jeremy was the officer who was the first one there to help us and he actually went into my house looking for us,” Deanna said. “It was Paityn, myself and one of her friends who were in the house at the time of the fire. It was fully engulfed and we had managed to get out. I ran up to the neighbors to get help and that was when he came. By time I came back down he was in the house looking for us. I went back in to get him and we came back out.”

Deanna said a fire is a terrible thing to have happen especially around Christmas. She said you feel like you don’t belong anywhere. But she stressed they are very grateful because there are people who have less.

“Yeah, we have nothing, but there are people who are worse off,” Deanna said. “Jeremy took very good care of Paityn while Paramedic Ryan Hill took care of me. I had burnt my lungs a little bit. It’s a very different situation, you never really think about things like this …”

Deanna explained she had already bought gifts for Christmas and didn’t know what she was going to do. In addition to Paityn, she has two adult children.

“I just didn’t know what I was going to do, because some of that stuff you just don’t have money to replace,” Deanna said. “We are staying with my oldest son and these guys have done so much and have donated a lot to our family.”

Deanna said the St. Francois County Ambulance District has done so much for them and Children’s Hospital adopted them as a family.

Hill said it initially started as one small request and grew into so much more.

He explained he reached out to actress JoJo Siwa on Facebook to see if she would send a care package to Paityn for Christmas.

“Apparently the post was public and I didn’t realize it wasn’t private and it caught traction,” Hill said. “We have gotten a pretty decent collection of furniture for the family since then and the International Association of Firefighters 3705 donated $350 for gifts for the little girl and the ambulance district donated and matched that $350, for supplies for the family.”

Hill said the ambulance district also donated a Christmas dinner for up to 12 people for at their house. He said they also managed to collect from Children’s Hospital, approximately $300 to 500 in cash, gift cards and also gifts from them.

“Desloge Walmart donated, Imo’s in Farmington collected clothing and things like that and a Bismarck firefighter with an insurance agency off Karsch donated,” Hill said. “We were able to raise $1,500 to $2,000 in cash and gift cards, $750 in gifts for the whole family, along with all the other donations they received from outside places.”

Hill said they plan to take everything out to the family on Saturday. He explained he has a little girl around the same age and they had all their Christmas gifts in there, so it was an attempt to try to give the child a good Christmas after a tragedy.

Deanna said since the fire Paityn has not been handling it very well and has had a lot of nightmares.

“I know we were there in the fire and she saw it, but she doesn’t understand the situation,” Deanna said. “We never let her go back over there, so she doesn’t understand why we didn’t get her stuff for her.”

She was excited for Shop With a Cop though.

“She doesn’t know how to act right now because she has never been able to come in a store and get whatever she wants.”

Paityn said she was buying a hiking Barbie like she had before and a hammock for her Barbie too. Asked if she was trying to buy things she had before, Paityn said she was.

“I got a little mermaid Barbie and clothes for my Barbie,” Paityn said. “This is my first time doing this and I like it.”

Deanna said this is more than she ever expected and it is very hard to tell everyone how grateful they are.

Helping hundreds of kids every year

Early Tuesday morning, the Farmington Walmart store was filled with law enforcement officers from municipal police departments, the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri State Parks; as well as students with the Mineral Area College Law Enforcement Academy; and staff from St. Francois County Ambulance District. There were also several parents, social workers and teachers assisting. Even Santa helped out.

The sheriff’s department raises money all year to fund the program getting numerous donations from businesses, groups, and individuals. Each child receives $100 to spend on toys, clothes, or whatever they want to buy. Some buy gifts for siblings and parents. Some buy much-needed winter coats and other winter clothes. Many times when children go a bit over the $100 limit, the officer pays for the rest out of their own pocket. 

Kaylee Churchwell, 7, of Farmington, and Bonne Terre Officer Brock LaPlant had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to get for Christmas. Afterall, $100 is a lot of money for a little girl to spend. It was her first time doing Shop With a Cop.

While quietly munching on her doughnut and wearing a Christmas hat, she found a bouncy ball, a stuffed My Little Pony, and a stuffed bird. After help from a couple more volunteers, she picked out some Peppa Pig toys. 

“She had a wonderful time,” her mother Michelle Churchwell said, adding Kaylee loves police officers. “She couldn’t wait to get back to school to tell all her friends.”

Michelle was very thankful for the program.

“If not for this she wouldn’t have any Christmas at all,” she said. “It’s such a blessing.”

Danny Dean, 10, a student at Central, shopped with a Missouri corrections officer. He picked out a bunch of Nerf gun toys. This was his second year doing Shop With a Cop. His older brother, James, found wrestling figures. His favorite is A.J. Styles.

Adrian Cooper, 4, a Head Start preschooler, picked out Ryan’s World toys. He was also going to look at trains and cars. 

Vincent, 8, a North County Parkside student, who shopped with a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper, picked out a bicycle and looked for a Lego video game to buy with the remainder of his money. 

This was the 26th year for the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department Shop With a Cop program. Coordinator Lora Henson expects about 500 children will participate this year. The makeup day for remaining Shop With a Cop kids will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Desloge Walmart.

At left, 7-year-old Kaylee Churchwell of Farmington rides in the shopping cart up and down the toy aisles of Farmington Walmart with Bonne Terre Officer Brock LaPlant as her Shop With a Cop buddy.

At left, 7-year-old Kaylee Churchwell of Farmington rides in the shopping cart up and down the toy aisles of Farmington Walmart with Bonne Terre Officer Brock LaPlant as her Shop With a Cop buddy.

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