Cops provide Christmas miracle for needy children
The Christmas miracle came a little early for some needy children from around Steele County as they took advantage of a shopping experience with a least expecting shopper in hand.
Fifteen children were paired up with uniformed officers from Owatonna Police and the Steele County Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 5 at the Target store in Owatonna. The officers volunteered their time to be with the kids for shopping, gift wrapping and refreshments.
Armed with a list in hand, sheriff’s deputy Kari Woltman wheeled a cart around Target with a young girl by her side. They started by picking out $100 worth of winter wear and clothing and ended with $75 in gifts for the girl and the rest of her family.
“Knowing we can put smiles on their faces and interacting with the children at such a young age is a wonderful experience,” said Sheriff Lon Thiele, who coordinated the law enforcement effort. “It’s a great sense of community policing working with these children.”
The Salvation Army, which provides $100 per child for winter wear and clothing, make the Shop with a Cop program possible. Jan Karasch of the Salvation Army said the money comes from the Army’s Kettle fundraiser. Target also kicks in another $75 per child for gifts.
Karasch said at the start the kids are often shy and not sure what to expect, but by 10 minutes into it, they are beaming from ear to ear with joy. “It’s priceless to watch them interact with the officers,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
Shop with a Cop, Karasch says, is designed to give children a different perspective and different interaction with law enforcement.
The Salvation Army relies on various community agencies for referrals to be involved with the program, Karasch said. While the Salvation Army utilizes a careful selection process, she pointed out it is not income based at all. The children selected are from Steele County.
“We feel privileged and blessed to do this,” Karasch said.
Zeb Schultz of Target coordinates the response from Target for the program. Target provides team members to assist the police officers with finding items in the store for the children. Target also has workers in Santa’s Workshop ready to assist with wrapping gifts.
Schultz said Shop with a Cop allows Target to give something back to the Owatonna community. “It’s awesome seeing the kids coming in and knowing they are shopping for their families,” he said. “This is one of those things that restores your faith in humanity.”
Shop with a Cop has been going for seven years in Owatonna with the past two taking place at Target. Karasch said the Salvation Army has received nothing but wonderful feedback about the program. “They are thankful and tell us they didn’t know how they were going to provide everything at Christmas,” she said of the families involved. “We have never had an unhappy parent,” she added.
Thiele said the program is more than just providing gifts at Christmas. “Being able to work with children at such a young age so they’re not afraid of us and can come to us if they need any kind of assistance is what this is all about,” the sheriff said.
Besides regular patrol officers, Steele County’s special deputies and Owatonna’s reserve officers took part in the event.
“It’s always nice to do this for the community and give back in a positive way,” Schultz said.