“This one might be too big for you. How tall are you?”
That’s what Cowlitz County Sheriff’s deputy Craig Murray asked his charge, Josue Sanchez-Espinal, as they perused the side of the toy aisles of the Woodland Walmart on the morning of Dec. 11. Sanchez-Espinal was one of more than 130 kids who were able to “shop with a cop” during the day’s event, a tradition that brings out local youth and law enforcement in a community-building, holiday-themed event.
Murray was one of a number of suited-up police forces on hand as he helped kids pick out what they wanted most for Christmas as part of the Woodland Police Department’s annual “Shop With a Cop” event that featured dozens of officers from agencies ranging from Kalama to Ridgefield.
This year’s event had 136 youth sign up, Woodland Police Sergeant James Keller said. Although lower than the near-200 record in prior years, the aisles were still filled with uniformed officers more focused on picking the best toy than solving the worst crime.
Keller said the slower pace made it easier for officers to spend time critically analyzingwhich purchase would be the best. Deputy Murray, as an example, spent minutes ruminating on which scooter would be best for the kid he was helping.
“Do you need a helmet?” He asked Sanchez-Espinal. His family said he already had one.
As far as uniformed staff, Keller took over the responsibilities when he was promoted to sergeant several years ago. Those involved in the event recently formed a nonprofit in order to handle funds for the event more directly.
Keller said the group analyses local schools’ rosters to identify kids who would benefit the most from the experience, making sure they don’t have the same student again in subsequent versions of the outing.
Keller was pleased with the turnout. His boss, Woodland Police Chief Jim Kelly, was bedecked in his signature pants featuring festive colors as he meandered among the more traditional-garbed law enforcement.
Keller said the nonprofit status of the event allows for more autonomy as in prior years the funding was handled by the city.
The event let officers interact with youth who might only see law enforcement during police interventions. Having an ability to connect outside of dire circumstances is important, Keller said.
“This means a lot to all of us,” Keller said.
Police clerk, and general organizer for a host of public safety efforts, Daniela “Donny” Conner was instrumental in getting Shop With a Cop running. Now a board member of the nonprofit, Conner said she’s been coordinating the event essentially since its inception 11 years ago. She said through that time donations have increased.
Local businesses alone raised more than $30,000 for the event on top of donations from other agencies’ jurisdictions. It also received a $4,000 grant from Walmart, and Kalama financed their share entirely, Conner said.
Conner’s handling of the event comes from a desire to help youth in the city she calls home.
“A lot of these kids, they’ll come through ahead of time,” Conner said. “It’s so much fun watching the smiles on these kids’ faces.”
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