A convoy of law enforcement vehicles, complete with flashing lights, cruised down Lafayette Street in London on Saturday, escorting a school bus of children to Walmart. The line of cars pulled into the parking lot, stopped at the front door and let the group of kids out, their chaperones guiding them to the front wall for pictures just as Santa Claus rounded the corner and surprised everyone with a greeting.
The festivities were part of West Jefferson’s first ever “Shop with a Cop” event. Officers with the West Jefferson Police Department and Madison County Sheriff’s Department assisted 11 children in checking off their Christmas lists for the year. The event was sponsored by Coughlin Automotive and organized by Paula Martin of Rader-McDonald-Tidd Funeral Home in West Jefferson.
“I went into it wanting to warm the hearts of the kids and I think they touched our hearts more,” Martin said. “It was an amazing day.”
Getting the day organized has been a couple of years in the making. Martin said she had the idea after hearing a West Jefferson resident talk about a similar event in another town.
“I thought, we need this in West Jeff,” she said. She made some calls, talked with the mayor, and got the idea off the ground. “Two months ago, the mayor called me and said we had funding so I had two months to put it together.”
Martin said the children were chosen for a variety of reasons ranging from financial issues to those with emotional needs. Many of the kids not only shopped for themselves but wanted to get presents for family members as well.
“My list has hats, scarves and gloves,” said Zoey Dehmann, one of the kids participating in the shopping.
“I’m shopping for me but I have four other sisters,” said Juan Rodriguez-Messer, another of the kids involved.
The officers and kids had a little over an hour to go through the store and pile their carts. After the shopping, everyone was taken back to the West Jefferson Community Center for a pizza lunch supplied by Bambino’s Pizza.
Officers also helped out in another way. In order to get clearance to grow beards for the month of November, they agreed to pay $100 a person to their chief. In return, the money was used to buy a full Christmas dinner for all 10 families of the participating children.
Martin said after the success of this year’s event, she wants to continue the tradition and do it again next year.
“We wanted to include kids of all ages, kindergarten through high school,” Martin said. “The kids’ reactions, that made everything worth it.”
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.