The first day of the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department’s annual Shop With a Cop event wrapped up late Thursday morning after event volunteers saw the largest participation of local students in the program's history.
All totaled, 537 area children are expected to benefit from the program this year which Program Coordinator Lora Henson explained is the most children that they’ve been able to serve since Shop With a Cop began 27 years ago.
“This is our biggest year so far,” Henson said. “The most we had done before this one was 527 [children].”
Last year’s event managed to brighten the holidays for 496 area children and Henson said 500 is generally the average.
The majority of this year’s selected children made it out to Farmington Walmart for the first round of shopping, enjoying Christmas cookies and juice before being partnered with their law enforcement or public safety worker and hitting the aisles.
More than a hundred volunteer shoppers included deputies, state troopers, city officers, EMS personnel, and other public safety officials.
“This is my third year doing [Shop With a Cop],” said St. Francois County Paramedic Ariel Nicholson. “This is just a super awesome experience because I love doing this with the kids.”
Most of the volunteer shoppers ended up taking multiple children on trips through the store by the time shopping came to an end just after 11 a.m.
Each student was allowed to spend $100 while their shopping companion kept track of what was being spent using a calculator - sometimes paying the difference if children went over their spending limit.
Children went to different parts of the store for their desired items. Some students chose video games and electronics while others picked up bicycles and fishing gear, looking ahead to warmer weather.
Several students purchased new clothing, footwear, and even gifts for others.
Park Hills Police Officer Andrew Rieger said some of the children he shopped with were purchasing clothes and things he could tell they really needed, which illustrated how valuable the program is to area children.
“This is why we do this,” said Rieger while waiting in the checkout line with a student from North County Intermediate School. “She didn’t get any toys. She got herself clothes, shoes, and things like that, which is what she needed.
“It makes you feel good because this is why we’re here."
The selected items are purchased tax-free with money that the program raises throughout the year through various events like collections and raffles.
Organizers held a drawing Wednesday for a 2019 Can-Am 90cc four-wheeler that was donated to the program by KREI/J98 Radio and Midwest Sports Center. The winner of the ATV was announced as Mike Neeley and his young grandson, Titus.
Event organizers will meet up again at Desloge Walmart Friday at 4 p.m. for a makeup day when the remaining 100 students will be getting their shopping done.
Henson said she wanted to thank all the staff at Walmart who provide extensive help each year by handing out cookies and drinks to students and volunteers.
“Walmart gets really involved with [the event] every year and we are so appreciative of the help,” said Henson.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com