Shop with a cop (or firefighter) celebrates fifth year in Woodburn
It may be called shop with a cop, but a more accurate title would likely be shop with a first responder.
The annual holiday gift-shopping experience that partners police and fire personnel with local school children once again went off without a hitch at Woodburn's Walmart location on Thursday and Friday.
More than 75 elementary and middle school students from the Woodburn School District took part in last week's shopping spree, purchasing presents for family members and for themselves with the assistance of local volunteers from Woodburn Fire District, Woodburn Police Department, Hubbard Fire District and Hubbard Police Department.
"It's kind of nice that they tag along with us when it's Shop With a Cop," Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris said jokingly about his colleagues in the two nearby fire districts at the event. "Shop with a Firefighter doesn't rhyme."
"It's just a great experience," he continued, "and the police and fire in Woodburn work so well together, it's a great partnership. It's a great way to show it, and we really enjoy it."
But the real stars of the event are the kids. Selected by faculty from Woodburn's four elementary schools, each student is given a $75 gift card courtesy of Walmart to purchase Christmas presents for family members or themselves. Students arrived at Walmart in the morning on Thursday and Friday, and after a brief orientation, were partnered with a local first responder to peruse the aisles in search of gifts.
"It's fun to watch these kids shop," said Rob Gramzow, a member of the Woodburn Fire District. "The decision-making process they go through, whether they find an individual gift or a family gift or for siblings — that's the really cool part about it."
The tradition began in Woodburn five years ago through the Woodburn Police Department, but quickly grew to incorporate the Woodburn Fire District a year later. Each agency is able to apply for a $2,500 grant through Walmart to participate in the event, allowing them to double the number of kids who can participate by working together.
This year, the event received an additional $750 donation via Coca Cola, allowing the Woodburn School District to include middle school students for the first time, making the 2018 event the biggest yet.
Volunteers among the local first responders chaperone their kids and help them stay within their budget, steering them away from larger items such as video game consoles, so each child has more money to divide up between their family members.
Most children quickly make their way to the toy aisles, while others seek out clothing for siblings or parents, but each shopper has their own internal Christmas list that can be heartwarming or heartbreaking to watch unfold.
"We had a kid, three years ago, that wanted to go get grapes, because that was something they never get in their house," Gramzow said. "They wanted to get something for the family that they don't get, instead of the toy."
Volunteers try to keep their shoppers away from perishable goods, because they need to be wrapped and last until Christmas, but in that particular case, they made an exception and sent the produce home with the student.
The event also serves as an opportunity to build trust between police officers and children.
"The kids get to have a positive experience with police and fire," Gramzow said. "They may or may not always have a positive experience."
This was the third Shop With a Cop in Woodburn for Ferraris, who has volunteered for the event many previous times in Portland and Salem over the course of his career. Each year he is excited to see the generosity that blooms within the children when they are given the opportunity to give back to their loved ones.
"The sweetest moment out of any of these shop with a cop events is when children put their family first, and the first thing they want to do is buy their mother, their father or their siblings a gift," Ferraris said. "That just says a lot about children."
Kids who don't reach their $75 limit are allowed to bring home the remaining balance on their gift cards to share with the family. Several additional gift cards are available to share between volunteers if their kids go a little bit over their budget, but sometimes volunteers will simply pick up the extra tab themselves.
"Both my kids were over and I just covered it," Ferraris said. "This is the right thing to do, especially when they want to buy gifts for other people first."