Kids, officers — all enjoy a Christmas shopping trip

Published: December 5, 2007 | 6874th good news item since 2003

First the kids got to fill up on fun stuff like pizza and cupcakes and soft drinks. Then they were able to fill a shopping cart with Christmas gifts for themselves and family and friends.

It was a special night for 64 underprivileged children in Sheboygan County, as area law enforcement officers escorted the youngsters on a special holiday shopping spree at the Target store at Deertrace Center in Kohler, for the 11th annual Shop With a Cop program.

“We did the pizza and we did all the stuff and we got to ride in a cop car and then turn the lights on,” said Jenny Koehler, 30, of Sheboygan, whose 4-year-old son, Ashton, placed some Power Rangers toys into his cart.

Alex Ruiz, 5, who was hot for Ben 10 cartoon character action figures, also remembered to get a few gifts for his mom, Christina Ruiz.

“He got me some mittens and a scarf,” said Christina Ruiz, 24, of Sheboygan.

Each child received $100 to spend, and was paired with a uniformed officer from several law enforcement agencies, including Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department deputies and corrections officers, the Plymouth Police Department and Sheboygan Falls Police Department. The local Coast Guard unit also has several members participating. Children were recommended for the program by area social service agencies.

“What’s nice is it gives these kids a first and hopefully long-lasting impression that law enforcement officers are people they can come to instead of run from,” Sheboygan County Sheriff Mike Helmke said.

Many area service organizations and businesses donated the funds needed for the pizza party and the shopping trip, estimated at about $10,000.

The pizza party was held at Lakeshore Lanes in Sheboygan, which provided the use of the hall and the soft drinks for the kids and their families. The cookies and cupcakes were donated by the county’s child support enforcement agency, Helmke said. The children also got to have their photos taken with Santa Claus before being whisked away for shopping.

Officers who participate do so on their own time, Helmke said.

“It’s a great program,” said Marla Meier, a Sheboygan County corrections officer, who has been involved with Shop With a Cop for several years. “It’s nice for the law enforcement to be seen in a positive light and giving back to these families.”

Amanda Drowns, 27, of Plymouth, who brought her 4-year-old twins Zoe and Autumn, and 7-year-old son Damien, was appreciative of being selected for the event.

“This is excellent, the police officers take their time from their own families to do this with our families,” Drowns said.

Christal Mallmann, 23, was with her daughter, Chantel, 5, who was picking out some Dora the Explorer toys and a Disney Princess DVD. Chantel said her favorite toy was Sleeping Beauty. Accompanying the Mallmanns was Paul Rickmeier, a Sheriff’s Department corrections officer, and his 12-year-old daughter, Hayley.

“A lot of children become afraid of police officers; this lets them know that he’s not here to be afraid of, but someone who can help and be a friend,” Christal Mallmann said.

Helmke said he’s been involved with Shop With a Cop since it started in 1997 with 29 kids. He’s happy the community has helped with donations to keep it going and growing, and that the children involved are also in the giving spirit.

“What’s heartwarming is not only do these kids shop for themselves … they will think of other family members, parents, grandparents, siblings and they will buy them something,” Helmke said. “That’s nice to see they’re not only thinking of themselves, but thinking of others.”

That’s exactly what Karly Wise, 10, of Sheboygan Falls, was thinking when she picked out some clothes items for herself and a set of Lincoln Logs for someone else in the family.

“I’m not showing him, though,” Karly said.

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