For struggling families, a blue Christmas can sometimes be a good thing.
Uniformed police officers were ready to join underprivileged children for a mini shopping spree during the 15th annual Cops and Kids holiday event Dec. 14 at the Target store at 16 Mile and Dequindre roads in Sterling Heights.
The program was arranged courtesy of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 118, the Sterling Heights Police Department and Target Corp.
According to Sterling Heights Sgt. Randy DePriest, an event organizer, Cops and Kids supplies money to needy families so they can do some Christmas shopping. Around 40-50 local kids get about $120 each to spend on presents, clothes or toys, he said.
In addition to a visit from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, Sterling Heights police officers become the kids’ helpers by pushing the shopping carts and escorting the children while they shop.
“We pair each child up with a Sterling Heights police employee, which acts as their buddy for the day,” DePriest said. “Target helps out by helping give us the lowest sales price for the event … so the kids can get as much as they can.”
DePriest said such events were not too common when he first helped found Cops and Kids. But nowadays, more fraternal police lodges are sponsoring them, he said.
He said police organizations and local community members have pitched in with donations to fund the event, and Target also donated a grant.
“This has really turned into one of the events that a lot of officers look forward to every year,” he said. “You see the look on these kids’ faces, and it makes it’s all worth it.”
DePriest said the families are told that the day is for the kids. “It’s whatever they want to buy,” he said. “We don’t make them have to buy underwear.”
Even so, he said, around 90 percent of the participating kids tend to buy presents for others, such as sisters, grandparents or parents. Volunteers are on hand to wrap up presents, he said.
According to DePriest, the Police Department gets recommendations of local needy families through sources like police staff, the Sterling Heights Community Relations Department, local community groups and churches.
Sterling Heights Police Capt. John Berg said this is the 15th year that he has agreed to do the event. He said it’s rewarding to meet residents outside of the categories of victim and suspect.
“This is the one time where, especially young folks, they can see that we’re just people, and we’re trying to make their lives better,” he said.
Learn more about the Sterling Heights Police Department by calling (586) 446-2800.