Patrolling for toys
A two-decade tradition of brightening local children's holidays was in jeopardy earlier this year after long-standing donation resources dried up.
Shop with a Cop, which pairs Gresham police officers with kids on a storewide Christmas shopping spree in the Gresham Fred Meyer was in danger of being cancelled. The organizers, the Optimist Clubs in Gresham, couldn't find enough people or groups willing to fund the charitable event.
But not willing to let an event that means so much to vulnerable children within the community end, the Gresham Police Officers Association stepped in, donating the $2,000 needed to have the show go on.
"These officers really get it," said Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells. "I love walking the aisles and taking pictures of the guys scrunched down with the kids."
Saturday morning, Dec. 14, about 24 officers took children around Gresham Fred Meyer for the annual Shop with a Cop event. The event pairs local kids in need of cheer during the holidays with motivated officers. The pairs work their way through the store at 2497 S.E. Burnside Road as Optimist volunteers man the carts.
Every child gets a budget of $100 to spend within the store. Not only do the children gravitate toward new toys and games to put under their trees, but they also buy shoes, winter jackets and other needed clothing items. The kids are also generous toward their siblings and parents, using portions of their budget to buy gifts for loved ones.
During the event, there are donuts, orange juice and other snacks. The kids also swing by Burgerville, 2975 N.E. Hogan Drive, for a post-shopping spree lunch.
Just like in past years, the sign-up process for participating in Shop with a Cop is as competitive as ever within the department. The policy is first-come, first-serve for community outreach events. So many want to participate in finding gifts for the kids, that a fast email finger is a must.
Sgt. Ted Vanbeek was paired with a young girl who was blind. They spent most of the morning in the Barbie section, where Vanbeek described each of the dolls and what accessories came with them so his match could make the best choice.
Fred Meyer employees are also active throughout the morning, helping secure as many discounts and sales as possible to stretch each child's budget. One special deal the store had was $20 off any purchase of $100 or more — meaning the children were able to spend $120 on their items.
The officers with Shop with a Cop were there on their own time, some coming off late shifts from the previous evening. There is a real sense of excitement among the officers, who often go tearing down the aisles in search of toys for their kids.
"Sometimes the kids are a little intimidated by the officers when they first come, but by the end they are laughing and having fun," Sells said.
At the end of the morning, Officer Walter Harper was passing out police department badge stickers. One of the young boys went to put a sticker badge on Harper's chest.
"I've already got one," Harper said with a laugh, tapping his metal police badge. "Maybe someday you will have one like mine."
A pair of Gresham officers created and ran their own charitable effort during the holiday season.
Officers Daniel Tatro and Brendon Hayes put on the Fill the Cruiser event, Thursday and Friday evening, Dec. 12-13, outside the Gresham Fred Meyer. At each of the entrances to the store there was a police cruiser that shoppers could help fill to the brim with toys.
All of the donated toys are going to be distributed to local children who are just entering the Foster Care system — meaning they otherwise wouldn't have had access to the normal toy sources for Christmas.
Both Tatro and Hayes put the event together during their free time.
"That was totally driven by those two officers," said Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells. "It's amazing to see what they put together."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.