As of Wednesday, December 12, 2018
SUNNYSIDE Local law enforcement officers and personnel responded in full holiday force as an array of police lights illuminated the eastern Walmart entrance before Saturday’s sunrise to escort school nominated students, ages 7-18, for the inaugural “Shop with a Cop” event.
Hosted by the Sunnyside Police Department, in partnership with Walmart and coordinated by the School District, the outreach program was developed by SPD School Resource Officers Erica Rollinger and Chris Sparks who spent the past couple of months working on the project.
Underprivileged area youth from low-income families that are facing at-risk or medical challenges, were recommended from their school’s teachers and counselors.
The officers interviewed the candidates and 27 were selected to participate.
“We have two kids from each elementary school, six from each middle school and five from the high school,” Sparks reported.
Walmart provided each student with a $100 gift card.
A group of volunteers were stationed to wrap each gift after the shoppers checked out at the register.
Santa was on hand to visit with the kids and smile for pictures, where they were surprised by a personally selected gift from store employees.
Yakima County law enforcement professionals arrived on scene prior to the 7 a.m. start time to welcome the invited guests and shared in a Subway restaurant sponsored breakfast.
The purpose of the event was to foster positive relationships between youth and officers.
Sparks believed the program teaches students about the spirit of giving and coming together as a family to help one another.
“Adding law enforcement to it, I think helps add more of a community element to it,” he added.
Following their morning meal, it was time for the designated students to be paired up and escorted around the store by police personnel. The Miss Sunnyside Court readied store carts for a fast start to the shopping extravaganza. Uniformed officials stepped forward and with both hands on the carts, provided immediate backup assistance as they rolled out on the retail floor together.
SPD Commander Dan Christman and Officer Aaron Cantu accompanied Harrison Middle School sixth grade student Luis Felipe, 12, and his mom, Veronica Sanchez. With help from Christman and Cantu, Felipe patrolled the toy aisles in pursuit of specific gift items for his three younger sisters.
“My sister Yakelin has a diary, and she forgot to put the lock on, and I saw what she wanted for Christmas, and I got her these things,” Felipe proudly confessed.
His mom was there in quiet support of her son’s role in playing Santa.
“Luis is having fun shopping for his sisters. I am saying nothing. I’m just here to watch him,” Sanchez said.
While the shopping detail rolled along, Cantu and Christman helped keep track of Felipe’s family gifts and how much the youngster had remaining on the gift card. In all the Saturday morning jolliness, there was one family member Felipe might have forgotten, and Cantu whispered into the sixth-grade student’s ear, “Don’t forget about your mom!”
Without delay Felipe responded, “I’m saving the best for last!”
“To be a part of this, is a reward for us as well. We look forward to these events where we can partner with kids or parents, adults and citizens of our community. And, that’s why we’re all here today,” Christman stated.
“Not everybody is lucky enough to have a good Christmas. We think it’s important, especially for younger kids to have that experience,” Sparks said.