Shop with a Cop helps youth with school clothes
Police officers of Owatonna and Blooming Prairie Police Departments had the unusual task of helping local kids pick out school clothes as part of Salvation Army’s Shop with a Cop program. Eleven police officers and 11 local kids participated in the event that took place at Wal-Mart on Sept. 23.
Each police officer was assigned with a child, and each child was allowed $150 to spend on any clothing or school supplies items that they needed. Some of the items kids needed were jeans, shirts, socks, sweatshirts and winter gear like gloves, hats and snow boots.
“It is really cute to see some of these tough police officers picking out cute girlie outfits,” laughed Salvation Army’s social services director, Gina Shepherd. “I think every kid deserves that feeling of walking to class, feeling great, because they are wearing something new. It’s a confident boost.
“We know that some families in Steele County just have nothing, and without this program, they wouldn’t have new clothes,” said Shepherd.
The children that participated were selected from what Shepherd called a case-by-case basis. The funds for Shop with a Cop comes directly from donations to the red Salvation Army kettles, most commonly seen around the holiday season at various stores.
“We want people to know that 87 percent of money donated comes back to the community,” said Shepherd. That other 13 percent also stays local, as it is used for administrative costs.
Each child and police officer ate dinner together at the Subway restaurant in Wal-Mart before or after their shopping experience. There was also time to explore the squad cars.
The Shop with a Cop program has run for seven years, and Shepherd said it is one of her favorite programs. She believes that it is important for these children to see law enforcement in a positive light.
“I think there is a lot of miscommunication between law enforcement and some communities,” said Shepherd. “With communication, I think there can be a bridge between that gap.”
Shepherd said that for some children, a positive interaction with a local police officer can make a big difference.
“We had one little girl a few years back, and her father was in and out of jail. Every time she saw a police officer, it was a scary experience,” she said. “At the beginning of the night, she was afraid, but by the end of the night she was laughing and having fun. She came up to me and said that it was the best night of her life.”
Owatonna police officer Emily Ammentorp was helping Owatonna fourth-grader Sierra Rocco pick out some new items. With a cart full of pink items, Ammentorp laughed and said “she loves pink!”
“I was asked if I wanted to be a part of this event, and I said yes,” said Ammentorp. “I love kids. It’s about giving back and it shows a good side of law enforcement.”
Volunteer Roger Hosfield helps with many of the programs that Salvation Army provides the community. While he says it is to fill time after retirement, he truly enjoys being a part of a good cause. “This event is super,” he said. “People don’t realize what Salvation Army does.”
Beyond programs like Shop with a Cop and the fall Backpack giveaway, Salvation Army actually has a crisis fund for families that might need help getting through a tough time.
“It’s true, the utilities do shut down if its negative four degrees, and you haven’t paid your utilities,” said Shepherd. “We don’t want families to go through that. The crisis fund is designed to help anyone that has a risk of becoming homeless.”
Salvation Army also has an Emergency Disaster Service that helps with fire, tornado or any storm damage. “If something happens, we’re ready to go!” said Shepherd.
“When people ask me what does Salvation Army do, I say what does it that we don’t do!” said Shepherd.