Published December 17, 2012
Police pair up with local youngsters for annual Cops & Kids event
By Cortney Casey firstname.lastname@example.org
The aisles of the Target on Metropolitan Parkway and Dequindre were full of men and women in blue — and one in red — the morning of Dec. 8.
Current and retired Sterling Heights police officers and dispatchers visited the store for the annual Cops & Kids program, which unites the police personnel with local children for a donation-fueled shopping spree.
And Santa Claus, himself, made an appearance as well — his hearty laugh echoing through the toy section as he greeted the youngsters.
“It’s our way to give back to the community, help out families during Christmas — with these economic times, just give them a little something extra for Christmas,” said Sgt. Randy DePriest, who organizes the event for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 118. “It helps show the kids that police officers are there to help them. They’re not just out there pulling people over, giving them tickets or arresting people — that we’re here to help.”
Some families included in the event were recommended by police officers who knew of their plights, while some were culled from the list of residents asking for help through the city’s Holiday Assistance Program, maintained by the Sterling Heights Community Relations Department.
Each of the children received a $120 gift card to spend as they pleased, buying gifts for themselves or for family members. DePriest said 42 were in attendance, and another six who couldn’t be present would be assisted, as well.
As in the past, Cops & Kids was supported by donations from the FOP and from individuals, including a recurring $1,100 contribution from a resident who was once touched by the program but wishes to remain anonymous, said DePriest.
This was the second year the event was held at the Metropolitan Parkway/Dequindre Target, and Angi Mock, the store’s human resources executive, said the staff enjoys the festivities almost as much as the children.
“It’s really big with our team,” she said. “It’s one of the days the team likes to work.”
Outside the Target employees’ break room, uniformed police officers lined the hallway to await assignment to a child by DePriest.
Their names called, the kids emerged from the break room — where they’d been munching on breakfast and watching holiday movies — wearing varied expressions.
There were the giddy, bubbly ones, erupting into chatter about their wish lists. There were the wary ones, sizing up their assigned partners. And there were the ones who became instantly shy, their eyes downcast as officers extended their hands in greeting.
The strategy out on the store floor also varied. Chief Michael Reese’s companion, Selma Alhalmi, for instance, came meticulously prepared.
Alhalmi, 6, knew exactly what she planned to get her family members, and well into the event, still hadn’t chosen a single item for herself.
“My brother wants a new brother,” announced Alhalmi.
Reese laughed, “I can’t help you on that one.”
Jayda Harris, 10, and her sister, Simone, 7, were on a mission: They knew they wanted baby dolls; it was just a matter of which. With the help of Officer Lindsey Maxey, they weighed their options, examining box after box to determine each doll’s capabilities — “She walks!” Simone exclaimed of one — before making their final selections.
Allie Verdis, 6, too, had her eye on baby dolls, along with all of the requisite accessories, like outfits and a miniature stroller. FurReal Snugimals — miniature stuffed animals — also were high on her priority list for herself and her sister.
Officer Scott Lucas, who followed Verdis with the cart, said he’s participated for the last few years, brought back by the enjoyment of “seeing how happy it makes the kids when they get something they really wanted.”
Some kids were winging it, weighing their options on the fly as they traversed the aisles. Such was the case for siblings Zeke Jacobsen, 11, Paige Jacobsen, 8, Darien Jacobsen, 9, and Corey Diekema, 15, who came out with their mom, Keri Jacobsen, and grandmother, Maryanne Mitchell.
Mitchell said it was a welcome treat for the children, who were still adjusting after moving to the community mid school year.
“The kids were just very excited about being able to come today,” she said. “Clearly, it helps out. This was something for them to look forward to.”