Five-year-old Dominic knew what he wanted in clothes for Christmas. Pretty much anything green or with Ninja Turtles got his attention.
He also wanted to get the required clothes-shopping behind him so he could use his discretionary budget for toys. Supplied with a coat, shoes, underwear, socks, pants, a Ninja-themed shirt and two shirts that glowed in the dark, he and his assigned personal shopper, a Platte County deputy sheriff, headed to the toy section.
And, yes, he found a large Ninja Turtle figure to add to the cart, plus assorted other playthings. But hold the wrapping. Dominic wanted to show his treasures to his mother and, perhaps, use them before Christmas.
He was one of 73 young people, ages 5 to high school, who participated Saturday in the annual Shop with a Deputy or Shop with a Cop events at the Wal-Mart on North Boardwalk Avenue.
Each had a personal Santa, but not one dressed in red. These men and women came in uniform and were armed, which startled some customers until they realized each officer had a happy, excited child in tow. And the officers, who would not ordinarily find shopping their forté, were almost as excited as the children.
Almost, because no one could match their exuberance.
Twenty years ago, Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen applied for a state grant and secured $500 in seed money for the first Shop with a Deputy event. Each child received $50, Owen said, and the deputies contributed additional funds.
The next year, $11,000 was raised with an auction of items autographed by professional athletes. Now the department has a non-profit children’s foundation to accept donations that can be used as needs arise.
This year, each child had $225 — of which $150 had to be spent on clothing. The remaining $75 was the child’s to spend on toys, gifts for family or even more clothing. Each child’s family received a food box from the sheriff’s department. And this year, as usual, deputies added a little when the child went over the limit.
The Platte City Police Department also participates in the annual shopping event, and its officers did so Saturday alongside the deputies.
Platte City’s Shop with a Cop is five years old, said Police Chief Carl Mitchell, and raising funds is a year-long activity. Events such as junior high school dances, silent auctions, raffles and even a Texas Hold ’Em contest made it possible to budget $250 for each child this year.
Mitchell mentions people like Randy Blough and Patty Farr, who round up silent auction items, the Platte City Price Chopper for providing a holiday dinner for each family, and fund-raisers Sara and Sherry Hunt.
“Without the community support,” Mitchell said, “we are unable to do this.”
He also counts on many volunteers. They include a Missouri Highway Patrol officer and a Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy, former members of his department, who come back each year to help — adding more uniforms to the mix.
Saturday was a scenario that is being repeated many times this month throughout the Northland. Riverside held its eighth such event Sunday — involving both police and firefighters — at the Wal-Mart on Boardwalk
Twenty-six children from Riverside were scheduled to participate, said Sgt. Brent Holland. Funds were raised by the Riverside Fire/Police Athletic League and local businesses. Each family received a Christmas dinner food box with a 10-pound turkey donated by Hy-Vee and FPAL.
“There is nothing more disappointing than waking up Christmas morning and finding very little,” Holland said.
Thirty children will Shop with a Deputy in Clay County on Dec. 14, said Geoff Zimmerman, the officer who has managed the event for 15 years. Each child will have more than $100 to spend, he said. Children from 2 to 15 years of age are referred to the department, many from schools. While the children shop, the department gives the family as much food as it can from its food drive, and Wal-Mart donates a turkey.
Liberty police have sponsored Shop with a Cop for 11 years, said Lt. Duane Davidson, by raising money from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 50, raffles, bake sales and donations.
Last year, the program served 15 children referred through their schools. Each child got $200, and parents were contacted to find out what items were needed most. Wal-Mart provides breakfast and wrapping paper.
Shop with a Cop in Smithville, now in its eighth year, was incorporated in 2010, said Officer Joanna Mayer. “Our main fundraiser is a silent auction and dinner at the Smithville Senior Center.”
Meat is provided by the Tender Butt and Smokey Thighs restaurant, she said.
Twenty to twenty-five children are referred by school social workers and have $250 each to spend at Target. Coats and winter items are bought separately.
Parkville police will take 17 children shopping on Dec. 14, said Police Chief Kevin Chrisman, who started the city program in 2010. Each child will have $175 to spend with no restrictions. The children are referred by Graden Elementary School.
Owen, whose program has served more than 400 children in 20 years, remembers vividly the child who had never worn new underwear and had used safety pins to hold up his hand-me-downs.
He recalls children whose shoes were either too small or stuffed with paper to make them fit, as well as a young girl who refused to take off her new hat so it could be rung up at the register. One girl was thrilled with her new coat, not only because it was warm, but because classmates would no longer make fun of her.
Donations can be made these programs any time.