Thanksgiving is behind us, so the Christmas and winter holiday season is officially upon us. Christmas trees are draped with lights and Menorah candles are being lit in living rooms across America. Gifts are being wrapped in colorful paper. Meals are being planned. People are even getting onto airplanes again, despite all the noise over the COVID-19 virus and the trepidation to even set foot into an airport, much less an airliner.
It's a comfort to have a tradition of gathering with friends and family during the holidays—it's important to remain connected to the ones we love.
Another tradition is the annual effort by police officers across the country to ensure that children—who are perhaps living in a broken home, or have parents who are not financially able to buy toys for their young ones—get to enjoy the season with some love, attention, and a couple of little gifts purchased at a local store.
However, as mentioned above, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in myriad ways—Shop with a Cop will surely be considerably more difficult to execute in 2020 than in any previous year. In fact, in many places, the annual celebration bringing cops and kids together for Christmas has been outright canceled.
In Washington state, the Aberdeen and Hoquiam Police Departments jointly announced on Tuesday that the annual event, which teams up children from each community in Grays Harbor with local officers, has been canceled for 2020.
Both local police departments say that they are looking for other ways to get some help to those families in need for the holiday season, but that pairing kids with officers from those agencies to wander the aisles of the local department store presented too much of a challenge this year.
The Hoquiam Police Department announced on its Facebook page as far back as September that the event this year will be canceled. Alternatives are being considered, including delivering packages to the doorsteps of the families that had been accepted into the program. Chief Jeff Myers said that the agency may also erect a "giving tree" in the lobby of the agency's headquarters building for donors to drop off presents and families in need can collect them.
The Jasper-Newton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 189 in Indiana announced on its social media pages that the annual event would be canceled this year.
The organization said on Facebook, "This year has been very complicated and we have to consider the health of both the families and officers that would be involved in hosting this program this year. This decision was not easily made and we are very disappointed that we cannot host this event in 2020."
Other agencies to cancel outright the annual Shop-with-a-Cop event include the Urbana (IL) PD, the Sedalia (MO) PD, the Dallas County (IA) Sheriff's Office, and far too many to list. The agencies are working to create alternatives so that those families who had hoped for police assistance during the holidays are in fact receiving that assistance.
Moving Forward and Making Adjustments
Meanwhile in other areas of the country, agencies are finding ways to continue the tradition. For example, California's Shop with a Cop Foundation of Silicon Valley (SWACSV) has committed to continuing the program, now having raised more than $36,000 this year for officers to spend alongside children from the area who are under-served.
In addition to the annual shopping trips, SWACSV is focused on delivering services that promote literacy and academic achievement to kids who might otherwise not have access to those educational resources. The annual Christmas shopping trip is certainly a lot of fun, but that organization works year-round with the support of myriad corporate sponsors to help kids succeed.
The Washtenaw (MI) Sheriff's Office is also proceeding forward with the program, albeit with some added precautions to protect everyone involved from contracting the disease.
In Rutherford, NC, the event will be held on December 15 as planned, but strict adherence to social distancing and donning of face masks will be required.
The Conyers (GA) Police Department plans to go forward with its Shop-with-a-Cop program.
The Lewis County (WA) Sheriff's Office also plans to proceed.
The Cape Coral Program
The Cape Coral (FL) Police Department also plans to proceed and has posted very specific instructions to parents on its website stating that kids should be dropped off at the local shopping store at 0900 and picked up at 1100. Each child will check in, be given a mask and a sticker with their officer's name on it, and they will go about the shopping process in groups of 10 every 10 minutes.
Anella Nyack is one of the leads of the Shop-with-a-Cop Program with the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. "Our 18th Annual Shop With A Cop will be handled differently," she said. This year especially, there are more children than ever whose families are having financial as well as emotional challenges. With so many things being taken away from the kids, I wanted to give them something to look forward to. This year marks the 18th Anniversary of the program and so many families look forward to this event, we had to come up with a way to keep us all safe while still maintaining the integrity of the overall experience.
"For the safety of both shoppers and officers, I had to reduce the close contacts with the pair (officer picking up child at their house with their patrol car, breakfast at McDonald’s and after the shopping experience back to the station to wrap presents, watch a movie, take a photo at our photo booth, have a pizza lunch and dessert, visit from Santa who hands out a present for each child followed by a couple of items to raffle off," she added.
After shopping—and before their parents pick up their children—the officers will visit a tent outside in the parking lot to get wrapping paper, scissors, tape, and name tags as well as a "to go lunch" and a goodie bag filled with gift certificates and candy.
There are a lot of considerations for police agencies seeking to continue their Shop-With-a-Cop Programs given the current pandemic, but it is plausible and possible to do so.