Many Oro Valley Target shoppers had a curious look on their faces as they stepped foot into the store on Dec. 14.
That was because 15 Oro Valley police officers were gathered near the doorway. However, this was no robbery call. In fact, it had nothing to do with taking, and everything to do with giving.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #53, along with the Oro Valley Police Department, Council members, Town employees, and local employees gathered to participate in the annual Shop with a Cop event.
The program, which is funded by the FOP and donations from the community, offers needy children a Target shopping spree each year during the holiday season.
“It becomes very emotional, seeing the looks on parents’ and kids’ faces. It’s about being a part of helping others in your community, being able to reach out to those who are having a bad year,” said Officer Kevin Mattocks, President of the FOP, Lodge #53.
When the event was started with the FOP more than 10 years ago, limited donations meant shopping sprees for just five children. This year, thanks to the FOP and donations from Town employees, Oro Valley Police, Council members, citizens and local business like Best Buy and Target, the event was able to provide shopping sprees for 17 children from the nine Oro Valley schools invited to participate.
The children, who are selected by school counselors and nurses, each received more shopping money than the program has ever offered. When Mattocks announced that each child would get $200 in shopping money, cheers and smiles filled the crowd.
“This is awesome. I felt so special when my counselor picked me,” said 17-year-old Mia Andrews of Canyon Del Oro High School.
As the children, assisted by officers and town members, began their shopping sprees, a variety of selections were made. Children picked out dollhouses, movies, clothes, and skateboards, amongst a long list of other items.
Nine year-old Joel Petrass, of Painted Sky Elementary, who frequently borrowed his mother’s camera, picked out one of his own - a silver digital Canon, along with a memory card.
As the children finished their selections, it was clear the program’s message of giving had not been overlooked by them.
“I bought my mom a watch, a necklace, and some earrings,” said 12-year-old Taylor Sullivan, of Basis Charter School.
Leua Helu, of Ironwood Ridge, had a bag full of clothes in her cart, all of which she had picked out for her siblings.
“Without fail, every time I have done this, the child I have been assigned to has gotten a gift for his or her mom, dad or sibling,” said Officer Kara Riley, of the Oro Valley Police Department.
“It’s not a selfish thing. We’re giving to them, but they also recognize being able to give back to somebody as well,” said Mattocks. “It’s kind of like paying it forward. It sends a message out to everyone, and it’s a learning lesson for adults and kids.”
Shop with a Cop has also helped strengthen the relationship between youth and law enforcement. When asked what her favorite thing about the event was, Sullivan said, “All of the police.”
“Kids get to see that we are human, that we like to shop, that we like happiness for other people. I became a policeman not to arrest people, but to be a public servant. The joy that I get is providing to the public,” said Riley.
Each year, at the beginning of the school year, the FOP also holds the Shop with a Teacher program.
With teachers often spending much of their own income for classroom supplies, this program helps decrease those out-of-pocket expenses.
Donations for both programs can be made at http://www.ovfop53.com, or by calling 401-8446.