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December 20, 2011 > Police give kids the gift of giving

Police give kids the gift of giving

Story and photos by Julie Grabowski

Each Christmas the Fremont Police Department provides local children with the best gift of the season - the gift of giving. In partnership with Target Stores, Mission San Jose Rotary, Fremont Police Association, and Fremont Bank, the eighth annual "Shop with a Cop" was held Wednesday, December 7.

The event gives 20 kids a pass from school to go Christmas shopping for their family at the Target in the Hub Shopping Center in Fremont. Participants are selected by the Human Services Department of the Family Resource Center, whose counselors work with families needing services in areas such as education, legal, medical, and employment. Participation level and the needs of the family are taken into account when determining nominations for "Shop with a Cop." Goals are created for the family and they must be active in helping to help themselves. Those nominated must be six to eight years of age, attend school in Fremont, and be a current client of the Resource Center or Youth and Family Services.

Once kids are chosen, they and their family members put together a wish list for the shopping day, and the police department notifies the schools of the event and kids involved.

When the happy day arrived, kids were picked up from school in patrol cars sporting antlers and Rudolph noses and chauffeured to a large white tent in the Target parking lot where Christmas music, Starbucks hot chocolate, and breakfast welcomed them. A picture of each kid and their officer was snapped by a Christmas tree decorated with envelopes bearing their names and containing gift cards for their shopping trip. But the day's gifts weren't only for others - a nearby table was piled with bright red Target bags filled with presents purchased in advance from the kids' own wish lists. Half Price Books also donated a book for each child.

After a welcome and rundown of the day's workings from Sergeant Fred Bobbitt, the shopping began. Kids were split into groups, and while one half shopped with officers and Target employees, the other half made crafts, played games, got their faces painted, sat on a police motorcycle and met a police K-9. Decorated foam picture frames were created to display pictures of the kids with their officer. Santa Claus and the Half Price Books mascot BW Bookworm were also a part of the festivities.

"It gets more elaborate every year," says Police Department Community Engagement Specialist and event organizer Martha Matthiesen. New games and shampoo, toothbrushes, and toothpaste for the families were this year's new additions.

"Shop with a Cop" is supported entirely by grants and donations. Matthiesen says she starts applying for grants in the summer and planning for the event begins in September. $50 is allocated for each child and $35 to $50 for each family member. Generous contributions and participation in the event were given by Target Stores, Mission San Jose Rotary, Fremont Police Officer Association, Fremont Bank, Outback Restaurant, Starbucks, Half Price Books, Irvington Business Association, and employees of the Fremont Police Department.

In addition to cordoning off a section of their parking lot for the event, Target donated wrapping supplies and provided helpers to aid the kids in purchasing their gifts. "They support us big time," says Matthiesen. "We love Target and they love us."

Sergeant Fred Bobbitt has been involved with "Shop with a Cop" from the beginning. "It's great for the kids but it's also great for the officers to give back other than law enforcement." Sergeant Bobbitt says there's more to being a cop than providing safety, and this event gives them an opportunity to interact with young kids in a positive way. Matthiesen agrees. She says you don't know what these kids and their family's experience has been with the police, and the event not only gives kids the gift of giving, but also affords a positive interaction with police enforcement, reinforcing that they are there to help.

"I love this program," says Sergeant Bobbitt, whose son was in high school when "Shop with a Cop" started and now is helping as a cop himself. There is never any shortage of officers wanting to participate; it is an established favorite of the department and people have to be turned away.

When asked about future hopes for the program, Sergeant Bobbitt and Matthiesen say they would love to be able to provide holiday meal vouchers or groceries for the families. "This is a great start to their holiday season," says Sergeant Bobbitt, and it would be wonderful if they could not only provide presents, but the holiday meal to go with them.

Once the shopping has been completed, carts are taken to a wrapping station where kids and volunteers wrap their family's presents. The gifts are bagged up and later taken to the Family Resource Center to be picked up by the families. After enjoying a lunch donated by Outback Restaurant, it's back to the books for the kids, but the snowmen and Christmas trees will glitter on their cheeks for a little while longer, and the day will certainly be one they'll never forget.

For the police department the motivation and payoff is simple: "We have touched the lives of nearly 100 families over the first seven years of this event, and we hope to continue this tradition of giving back to more Fremont families in the future. The Fremont Police Department is honored to have the opportunity to brighten the holiday experience for 20 families in our community."

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