Show them the money: Donations sought to support Shop with a Cop program
Published 2:55 am Friday, December 1, 2017
Two women working in the court system in Boyle County are asking the community to show financial support as they revive the former Shop with a Cop program.
Stacy Coontz, an attorney at Helton, Walter and Noelker in Danville, and Jennifer Gaddis, who works as a court-designated worker and specialist in Boyle and Mercer counties working with juveniles as they come through the court system, are spear-heading the program.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Coontz.
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They will be taking eight elementary-aged children from the Danville Schools and 10 from the Boyle County Schools, although they’d like to expand the program in the future. The goal is to spend $125 on each child, plus an additional $25 on the children for lunch with the officer at Cheddar’s, which Coontz said has offered a discount for the meal. That’s at least $2,700 needed. People can also donate Walmart or Cheddar’s gift cards, if they would prefer.
“We don’t want to fall short and not be able to take as many kids,” Gaddis said.
Many of the kids use the experience to purchase gifts for their own family members, Coontz said.
The two women first organized a Shop with a Cop event in 2015. Coontz was working as a public defender at the time for the Department of Public Advocacy.
“I had juvenile clients that I knew wouldn’t have winter coats. I knew Christmas was not going to be real high on their list,” Coontz said. “Not only did they need that positive interaction with officers, they needed Christmas.”
Gaddis, a former social worker, is married to a deputy in Mercer County, who participates in the program there.
“He loves it every year,” Gaddis said. “I wondered, ‘Why don’t we do this in Danville?’”
The idea bloomed between the two women in Gaddis’s office at the courthouse.
That year — in 2015 — 12 children participated. Coontz and Gaddis weren’t able to hold the event last year, but said they want to bring it back to being a yearly event in Danville, especially after being asked about it by local law enforcement officers.
Archives of The Advocate-Messenger show that the Wilderness Trace Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police hosted a yearly Shop with a Cop event in the early and mid-2000s, but little mention is made of it after 2006.
There are multiple reasons why the program matters, Coontz and Gaddis said.
First, “every kid deserves a Christmas,” Coontz said.
And second, Gaddis said, is that it encourages a positive interaction between the children and law enforcement — something some children don’t get to experience. “We’ve got really good officers that live in our community.”
The officers typically come in on their day off to participate and the kids love it, Gaddis said. “The gift-giving they enjoy, but also the interaction afterwards,” she said.
Coontz said the entire experience was good for the kids and for the officers.
“You see so much ugly. (Officers) see a lot of ugly. To get to be reminded that there’s some good in the world — it’s good for everybody,” Coontz said.
Coontz said her favorite part of the experience is seeing the faces of the children as they shop, because they enjoy it so much.
“I love to see them taking the officers and deputies around to nine different aisles, telling them nine different things, because they can’t make up their minds,” Gaddis said, smiling. “I love the chaos of it.”
It’s a great balance, the women said, seeing the law enforcement officers as role models for the kids.
“They’re in uniform … And they’re so humble when they’re around the kids,” Gaddis said. “They carry the stuffed animals or the unicorns and they pose for pictures.”
“It’s just a good experience all around for everybody,” Coontz said. “It’s good. We get to do something for the betterment of the community.”
Spending the day with the officer also gives the child a safe person to turn to if they need help in the future, Coontz said.
“‘I remember that officer, he — or she — was really nice. I can go to them.’ We want kids to feel safe and we want them to have a good Christmas,” she said.
Gaddis agreed and said it could have a long-term impression on the students.
All students that will be taken shopping have been selected by the family resource centers at their schools and have been checked against other similar lists in the community.
Coontz and Gaddis said they will happily accept donations from business or individuals. The Boyle County Sheriff’s Office kick-started their fundraising efforts in November by hosting a No Shave November of their own.
“Whatever they get from that, they’re going to donate to Shop with a Cop,” Coontz said.
Donation jars have been placed in the Boyle County Sheriff’s Office and the Boyle County Clerk’s Office. Gaddis said they are looking for other locations in the community to place more donation jars.
People can also drop off donations at Helton, Walter and Noelker, at 432 W. Main St. Donations will be collected on Dec. 12.