No need for concern when Dec. 20 arrives and several police cruisers are parked at Walmart in Benton--it's the 17th annual Shop With a Cop event in Marshall County. For nearly two decades, officers with the City of Benton Police Department and Marshall County Sheriff's Office have set aside a special day for shopping and dinner with local children.
Benton Police Chief Stephen Sanderson, organizer of the event, said about 20 officers from the participating departments will pick up their assigned children from school Friday afternoon and head straight to Walmart. Each of the 30 children will disperse through the store with their officer who will help keep a tally as they fill a shopping cart with goodies; each child will have a $200 spending limit.
Sanderson said he typically asks parents if there are any needs such as shoes, coats or winter clothing and after those needs are met, the rest is spent on toys of the child's choice.
When they're finished shopping, the officers will load up the kids for another ride in the cruiser to Majestic Pizza & Steakhouse in Draffenville where they will enjoy a free meal.
Sanderson said the event wouldn't be possible without the many generous donations from the community, both individuals and organizations. He talked about one family who hosts an annual party and to gain entry, each person has to provide a $25 Walmart gift card for Shop With a Cop, which typically brings in nearly $2,000 annually. He also thanked Walmart in Benton for their cooperation and assistance and the Georgiou family for their generosity.
"The basis of the program is providing a positive interaction with law enforcement officers for kids who may have had a negative experience with us due to circumstances out of their control. So this opportunity for us to build friendships with the kids and become part of their Christmas magic is a rewarding and fulfilling experience," he said. "We all look forward to this day every year."
Donations for the event are collected year-round and may be dropped off at the Benton Police Department or the Marshall County Sheriff's Office. For more information call 270-527-3126.