A few years ago, Delaware County Sheriff’s Deputy Detective Jeff Bessinger went shopping on a Saturday before Christmas.
Unlike a normal Saturday shopping trip, Bessinger and his wife were participating in the annual Shop With a Cop. The Bessingers were partnered with a mother and her five children that year.
“My wife took the little girls, and I took the little boys and we just headed our separate directions,” he said.
With gift cards given to each child, the Bessingers helped the children pick out outfits and toys.
“It was just nice being able to focus this on one child to give them something that may not otherwise have,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
Now in its 17th year, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office Shop with a Cop program is poised to help 30 children by partnering with the Lewis Center Walmart. Sheriff Russ Martin said it’s a way for his staff to connect with local families and mentor young children.
“Our deputies, corrections officers and civilian staff shop with these kids,” he said. “They spend quality time one-on-one with the them, and the kids see that we care.”
Bessinger said the children connect with the deputies and other staff.
“We show up in uniform,” he said. “Most of the deputies will let the kids wear their hats. It’s more of a bonding experience as well.”
Children selected for the program were referred by Job and Family Services, school counselors via the school resource officers and from People In Need earlier this fall.
DCSO said the response to Shop with a Cop has been so big that four other stores – all three Meijer stores in Delaware County and the Delaware Walmart – will also host Shop with a Cop events, and officers from other agencies including the Delaware, Powell and Sunbury police departments will join in the program to shop with 185 children.
Each child is given a $100 gift card to buy one winter necessity such as a coat or boots, with the remaining amount going toward toys or other items of the child’s choosing.
In total, the five stores are contributing $17,000. An additional $2,200 was donated by the Delaware Moose Lodge #1167.
Lewis Center Walmart store manager Jeff Stone said his store has been helping with Shop with a Cop for three years, and partnering with DCSO has been important.
“The sheriff’s department is very special in that they have such an experience with the community,” he said. “Every year you have those special moments when kids come through. And we don’t know the complete story of these kids’ background and family situation. And every year they are more excited about what they bought for their brother or sister or parents than they are what they bought for themselves.”
Stone said this year, the owner of the Subway restaurant inside the Lewis Center Walmart will be providing lunch to all the 29 children scheduled to shop at his store on Saturday and refreshment to the parents. Volunteers from Olentangy High School will be helping the children as well, he said.
“It’s just a really cool experience, and one of Walmart’s beliefs is that you can never give back too much to our communities,” Stone said. “Any chance that we can to help children, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, training in education, it’s the right thing to do. With the economy, while it may show improvement in some areas, we know there are still families that are hurting and we don’t want them to have to choose between food on the table and gifts under the tree.”