Program provides families with gifts, children with a new outlook

aShop with a Cop is in its third year and only getting bigger.

When Sgt. Jessica Van­Horn started the program her goal was to help 10 children — she ended up with 20.

The program takes children ages 6 to 10 and partners them with a Newberg-Dundee police officer, who takes them shopping for gifts for their families.

“A lot of these kids met officers in their normal duties,” VanHorn said. “(This way they) get to spend time with the officers and see them as a normal person and build positive relationships with the officer.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Breaking barriers - The Shop with a Cop program takes children ages 6 to 10 and partners them with a Newberg-Dundee police officer, who takes them shopping for gifts for their families.

VanHorn works with local school counselors to find children who meet her criteria for the program.

“(They are) low income, maybe (with) medical challenges, maybe at risk, or had a negative experience with law enforcement,” she said. “And we get kids who are not already in Toy and Joy or Love INC, that way we can spread the giving around the community.”

She then spends the year collecting donations before going to Maria Sampera at the Newberg Fred Meyer store.

“I go to Fred Meyer with nominations and the family size,” she said. “In Portland it’s set up that kids pick out gift for themselves. I wanted to do it a little bit differently. Children give gifts to their family so they can experience being able to buy something for their family.”

But the kids aren’t left out.

“Each child goes home with a gift,” Sampera said. “When you see the faces of the kids (opening their surprise gifts) you want to go buy more gifts for everybody. I don’t know why we don’t do this more often.”

This year 30 children will get to shop for their families and experience a different side of the Newberg-Dundee Police Department. Along with more children than last year, the Newberg Kiwanis joining the program is bringing some other changes.

“I just got to thinking about a service project because that’s what Kiwanis does … we do service projects that benefit children,” said Teresa Douthit, a Kiwanis member. “I was just thinking about this one so I contacted Fred Meyer and Jessica to see if they would be interested in us helping them and they said `definitely.’”

Although Douthit said the club originally thought about sponsoring the event, VanHorn said they didn’t need any funding, just help organizing.

So the Kiwanis are wrapping the surprise gifts and bringing Santa Claus and his elves to the event.

Terry Molander, also a Kiwanis member, said their Key Club will take care of the wrapping and also dress up as elves.

“They’re so excited,” Molander said.

With Santa in the mix, the children will get to end the day talking with him and when they do, he will give each child a gift from his bag.

“My goal is I just wanted kids to form a positive relationship with officers and get to buy something for their families,” VanHorn said.

Each child gets $25 a family member, so a single child with two parents would receive $50 to shop with. Sampera said she tries to make the money go as far as possible.

“There are certain discounts just for them, certain sales, basically ads just for them to save money,” she said.

She does the same thing with the money she receives from Fred Meyer to buy the children’s gifts.

Sampera said she spends the week prior shopping waiting for items to go on sale because although she gets to purchase the gifts at cost, with sale prices sometimes they are even cheaper and she can make her budget stretch further.

The total budget is around $2,000, which includes $1,000 Fred Meyer raised through a hot dog sale Memorial Day weekend.

“Every month we pick a charity and raise money for it,” she said. “Shop with a Cop is in May. Then we just hold the funds until the event.”

Molander said she was happy to get involved because of how much good the program can do.

“I think having a policeman befriend you and you’ve had maybe a rough life or your family life is a little rocky, to have a policeman befriend you and think enough of you to make sure you have a nice Christmas, plus your family, I think that speaks volumes,” she said. “You’ll never forget it and these are impressionable ages.”

Shop with a Cop is from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at Fred Meyer. For more information about the program, contact VanHorn at 503-538-8321.

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