Shop with a cop

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, December 24, 2009

The aisles of Wal-Mart on North Main Street were teeming with last-minute shoppers on Wednesday. Customers filled their carts with gifts for loved ones.

One group of shoppers, however, was a little bit different. Six children who currently live at the ForKids Suffolk House homeless shelter hit the aisles with Suffolk police officers for the first “Shop with a Cop” event in Suffolk.

“This is Tweety Bird,” Desitiny Lawrence exclaimed, snatching up a pair of pajama pants with the iconic canary’s image. “He’s like my boyfriend.”

Desitiny’s friend Angela Torres opted for Betty Boop pajamas, saying she would give them to her mother.

“I’m going to find my mom something, maybe a necklace,” Desitiny said.

About a dozen police officers came to the store to help the children shop.

“It develops a relationship with the kids in the community,” Detective Herman Kee said. “This way, we’re not just coming around as the bad guy, we’re here as the good guy.”

Suffolk Police personnel collectively gave about $1,000 to help the six children shop. Several officers came up with the idea a couple weeks ago, and then they raised the money and obtained permission from Chief Thomas Bennett at the last minute.

“We want to thank the chief for allowing us to do this,” Kee said. “We dumped it in his lap at the last minute.”

The group of police officers also obtained support from the Salvation Army. Wal-Mart welcomed the idea, and even prepared gift bags with candy and stuffed animals for the children.

Each child was given a limit and told to remember their parents and siblings as they shopped, Kee said. Officers helped reign in the children’s spending, encouraging them to look for less expensive, but still meaningful, items.

“We all have families too,” Officer C. Grant said. “We know how important it can be to someone else. It feels good to be able to help.”

Once the children were done shopping, Wal-Mart managers opened a special lane to tally all the purchases. There were pajamas and jewelry, sweaters and candy, socks, toys, craft supplies and underwear. The leftovers will be used to help a family who had just arrived at the homeless shelter, and any extra will be donated to the shelter, Kee said.

“We plan to do this every year,” Kee said. “I think it was an excellent idea.”