LIMA — Christmas came early for some children this year as local law enforcement played Santa Saturday to 79 youngsters between the ages of 5 and 12.
The annual Cops and Kids program sent the young ones on a shopping spree at Meijer. They met at the FOP Hall of Robb Avenue and were given a police escort to the store on Elida Road.
Once inside, the kids were allowed to spend up to $200 on presents for other family members and themselves.
Skylin Shappel, 11, from Lima was shopping with Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin.
“I already got my mom and my brothers figured out. They got boots and I’m getting them socks to go with their boots,” said Shappell.
“This is one of the favorite things that we do each year. It’s not only about the outreach; it’s about being able to help people. That’s really what most everybody who becomes a cop becomes a cop for. It’s so they can do good things and help other people and make other people’s lives better,” said Martin.
The program is now in its 11th year.
“They used to do it a long time ago, and then it kind of lost its bearings, so we picked it up again in 2008,” said Alan Mefferd, trustee for The Charitable Fraternal Order of Police, Lima Lodge #21, FOP Cops and Kids program.
The kids were chosen by their schools to participate in the program this year. The number of kids that have been helped in the past 11 years is 627.
“We contact all of the elementary schools in Allen County and ask them to submit names of kids whose families may have just fallen through the cracks and need a little help around this time of the year,” said Mike Watkins, FOP Lodge 21 president.
A member of law enforcement was paired with each child as they went around the store, filling their shopping cart.
The event does much to try and change the image of law enforcement.
“A lot of it has to do with trying to build relationships with the younger kids, kind of like the D.A.R.E. thing, to get them young [so] maybe they won’t do drugs. [For] some of them, the only interaction they have with law enforcement is when they’re taking mom or dad out to jail or something like that. We can show the kids that, hey, the cops are people too and they’ve got a heart and they’re not all big, bad meanies. That’s what we’re trying to do. Our big focus is we want the kids when they’re in trouble to run to us and not away from us, and that’s why we’re doing this,” said Mefferd.
Following the shopping spree, the group returned to the FOP Lodge where volunteers and the children wrapped the gifts and enjoyed a pizza party provided by TJ’s Pizza.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.