‘It was something that meant a lot to me’
by BETH ALTENA
When Maria Arel was in fifth grade she was one of the kids looking at winter coats, mittens and boots with a Rockford police officer and a helper by her side. Today she is a high school senior, a member of a new service group, Rotary Interact, and a volunteer herself. Arel was one of dozens of people who took part in this year’s Rockford Shop with a Cop at Meijer on Ten Mile Road.
“It’s great to be able to give back,” said Arel at the event.
Students whose families are struggling are chosen to be given $100 in necessities and one toy item with the help of Rockford police officers, who bring a spouse, family member or friend to make the experience less intimidating than it might otherwise be for the children—escorted by a policeman or woman without a parent along.
Every officer in the department—with the exception of one “minding the shop”—volunteer the two hours-plus to help the kids pick out items, check out at the cash registers, and then relax with snacks and Santa at the store. The police are there off the clock and at no cost to taxpayers. Meijer has participated in each of the eight times Shop with a Cop has taken place here in Rockford, implemented by Chief Dave Jones in his first year leading the department. Meijer and the Rockford Lions donate the food, beverages, the $100 in goods and a little something else.
Store Director Phil Morrow said he looks forward to the event and the kindness he sees each year. As an extra bonus, for each student who has been given the $100 in purchases, Morrow passes out an additional $25 gift certificate. “Today this event is for you. Now you have the chance to do something nice for someone else,” he said to the students.
The Rockford Lions, one of our local service clubs, always have members on hand to push carts, help make selections and otherwise be helpful. The group gives $1,000 each year toward Shop with a Cop. Polly VonEschen, of Polly’s Passions (a good gift idea this holiday season), said the experience is always emotional.
She remembers one year when she and Chief Jones were shopping with a little girl. It was time to go to the toy department and select something when the little girl looked up at VonEschen. “She looked at me and asked if we could get a car seat for her baby sister instead,” VonEschen stated. “She said she really didn’t have to have a toy, but her sister needed a car seat.”
Officer Aaron Sawyer was very impressed with the four high school Interact students who showed up that day to help, as well as with the new group’s generous spirit. He said he went to the group and talked about how Shop with a Cop makes a difference in our community as well as in the lives of the children who participate. “They had a bake sale and raised money they donated toward this,” Sawyer said.
Chief Jones said the event serves a dual purpose. Like other community outreach projects the Rockford police undertake throughout the year, the benefit is both to the kids participating, but also is good for the community.
“Many of the kids this year are graduates of the D.A.R.E. program,” Jones noted, so they already know and like their D.A.R.E. officer.
With Shop with a Cop, more interaction builds better relationships. “We are building relationships between the community and the police,” Jones said. “Great relationships between our officers with the children lead to great relationships when they are adults.”