By BETH ALTENA
Rockford Police officers, members of the volunteer police unit and children in families with need joined together for a morning of shopping, eating pizza with Santa and learning a life lesson about giving back.
The Rockford Lions, with help from Rockford Rotary has funded the program since it was implemented by the Rockford Police Department nearly a decade ago. Volunteering without pay, the police, joined by a spouse, friend or family member, take turns walking a child through the Rockford Meijer, choosing from a list of items provided by a parent or guardian. The list invariably includes outerwear for Michigan’s winter, necessities such as underwear and socks, and always includes a small amount for one item from the toy department. The financial support of the Lions and Rotary provide enough money for each child to have a budget of $100. Rockford officers often have a hard time sticking to the budget as they want the most for each child.
Lion Polly VonEschen always is one of the representatives from her club to participate, helping the youngsters find the right fit in coat or mittens or helping find the best choice in boots. She said she enjoys the annual event tremendously and the kids always surprise her with unexpected requests—asking to forgo the toy in favor of a necessity for a sibling, or asking other surprising questions.
This year the officers and police volunteers did double duty for the weekend after working the Santa Parade on Saturday, December 1, and Shop with a Hero on Sunday, December 2. The families to participate are identified as those who could use some help this year. There are usually siblings in the mix, and the kids are able to enjoy the presence of a police officer in a fun, happy setting.
In addition to the shopping, the group enjoys a pizza party, complete with healthy fruit snacks, in the Meijer meeting room while other children shop. They are assisted in activities by volunteers from Rockford High School—this year one of the officer’s sons and his friend from the high school. Each year the event has an exciting finale as Santa himself makes a surprise visit to interact with the kids and admire their coloring artwork.
Finally Meijer Store Director Phil Morrow gives each child a $10 Meijer card and encourages them to help another child just as they were helped that day and buy something for someone else.
The Shop with a Hero is one of many community policing events that take place during the year, allowing our officers to interact with our communities residents in a fun, exciting program. See other pictures of this year’s Shop with a Hero on page 14 of this week’s Squire.