Christmas a little brighter for kids, cops and firemen

Register 22 was hoppin’ as Walmart and  Bernick’s Pepsi expand ‘Shop with a Cop’ program

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The instructions were simple for 35 kids across Morrison County: Take a $100 Walmart gift card, buy Christmas presents and check out at Register 22.

shopcop1Taking time to help the kids were police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state patrolmen from around the county and Little Falls firemen.

After 45 minutes, Register 22 was the busiest place in Walmart as the kids and their cops or firemen checked out during the second “Shop with a Cop” event at Walmart in Little Falls.

After check-out, Walmart associates were waiting, ready to wrap the newly-purchased gifts so the presents could be kept as a surprise.

In 2011, 22 kids took part in the event.

This year, the program was expanded in multiple ways: More kids, more money and firemen were added to the mix to help the kids shop.

To make the expansion possible, Bernick’s Pepsi donated $2,000 to the event and, through the Walmart Foundation, $2,200 was granted to the Little Falls Police Department — $2,000 for the Shop with a Cop event, and $200 for a bicycle safety program.

“This is a big thing for Bernick’s Pepsi to give back to the community,” said Tom Tillman, area supervisor for Bernick’s, located in St. Cloud. “We wanted to improve the program.”

Tillman said the company teams up with many other Walmart stores in Central Minnesota to do the same.

shopcop7-reg22Teresa Kleinschmidt, assistant manager at Walmart said Subway donated its facility as a meeting place and a place where the kids could enjoy treats. Frito Lay “chipped” in with snacks as well.

Lincoln and Dr. S.G. Knight School Social Worker Anita Larsen, made sure the kids made it to the event and had a ride home, said Kleinschmidt.

Larsen said, “It is wonderful to see it (Shop with a Cop) grow with the number of students being served,” said Larsen. Families, she said, were appreciative of the generosity shown.

Much like last year, most of the kids focused on gifts for others.

“The kids were very excited to shop with a cop and buy gifts for their brothers, sisters, and parents,” she said. “Many of the kids had gift lists for each member of their family with much thought given to what special items they could now buy due to the generosity of the program.”

School social workers around the county helped coordinate the referrals, Larsen said.

With their gift cards in tow, the kids purchased “A Barbie for my sister” or “A battery operated car for my little brother.”

One young man was looking to purchase gifts for seven members of his family.

“All the officers had such smiling faces, they enjoyed it,” said Kleinschmidt. “The firemen were here for the first time and they were all great sports.”

“It was great,” said Little Falls Fire Chief Mike Nieman. “I had a great kid — Kaleb. He bought things for his brother, mom, dad and his sister and a belt for himself.”

“I don’t think any of the kids were selfish,” Nieman said.

Taking part in the program next year is definitely on Nieman’s list. However, he feels the program needs a new name since firemen were now taking part.

“Shop with a Badge,” was one idea Nieman offered.

Kleinschmidt hopes the program will be bigger next year, with her sights set on having 50 kids involved.

Starting with the first of the year, she said she plans to start putting things in motion, writing grants and talking to others so they can look at the possibility all summer.

“I got multiple phone calls asking, ‘How can we help next year,’” said Kleinschmidt. “They didn’t realize how big a thing it was. I made it more well-known in the community.”

Kleinschmidt said she talked to every one of the children and said most were surprised they were getting $100 gift cards. “They all spent it so wisely,” she said. “It was just amazing.”

If, when adding cost of items up in their heads, their math was a little off, there were no worries.

Kleinschmidt said if there were a few overages, it was taken care of. So too, if items were purchased that came with a service plan, that was added as well.

“So if the item got broken or something, they could bring it back and get it taken care of,” Kleinschmidt said.

Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel was in court for a deposition the day of the event and couldn’t attend.

“This is a good event. The guys had a great time last year and a great time this year,” he said. “We hope it continues into the future.”

Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers shopped with Katey from Motley. “She shopped for her two brothers, sister and her mom and dad,” said Schirmers. “She was very talkative and a very thoughtful kid.”

Schirmers dubbed the event a “huge success.”

As for the kids involved, Schirmers said, there was a theme. “They thought of others first; then if any money was left over, they bought something small for themselves,” he said.

Last year, Schirmers was approached by Walmart for the inaugural event.

“This year, it was much more organized and we were more prepared with more volunteers,” he said.

“The officers and firemen enjoyed it as much as the kids did,” he said.

“Having the firemen included and to have their support is incredible,” said Schirmers. “They are such an integrated part of the community.”

Schirmers echoed the sentiments of Nieman, that with the addition of firemen volunteers, the event name may need to be changed.

“‘Operation Rescue Christmas’ or ‘Operation Save Christmas,’” he suggested, incorporating what officers and firemen do in the public on a regular basis — rescue and save.

The fact that the kids were able to have $100 to spend was nice, Schirmers said.

“It gives the kids a lot more opportunity to buy some bigger gifts. It was a better amount for them to do some serious shopping,” he said.

“It truly brought out the real meaning of the season,” said Larsen. “To share kindness and that it is better to give than to receive.”