For 6-year-old Michael Nowinsky, the ride in a Border Patrol car with flashing lights stands out as a major highlight Saturday, an adventure the youngster says he'll never forget.
"I'm having a lot of fun doing this," the Nowinsky smiled as he talked about shopping with Border Patrol Agent Michael Clair. "The best part was riding in the police car and talking in the speaker," he added. "I told everyone Merry Christmas."
Nowinsky is one of the 40 children between the ages of 6 and 12 selected from a pool of applications to participate in Shop With A Cop, a shopping excursion where a child and law enforcement officer are partnered up for a $125.00 Christmas shopping trip to Walmart. The money is used for clothing, toys and gifts for themselves and family members.
At 6 a.m. Saturday morning, the children gather at the LDS Stake Center in Pomerene, where they meet their shopping partner for the first time. The youngsters and law enforcement officer become acquainted over breakfast and then it's onto the Benson Walmart. As the law enforcement procession makes its way down Fourth Street, the children are treated to a full-blown police escort, complete with lights and sirens. The quiet morning is pierced with the sounds of 40 sirens as they proceed down Fourth Street from Pomerene, creating a spectacular scene.
As the young VIPs and their law enforcement partners walk in the store, they are greeted by Santa and welcomed by a group of Walmart employees.
This marks the fifth year that Shop With A Cop program has been underway in Benson. In addition to $125 spending per child, four lucky youngsters won a drawing where they received a new bicycle, helmet and bike lock. The bicycles go to two boys and two girls.
Nine-year-old Summer Gomez is one of the bicycle winners. While browsing through Walmart with her shopping partner, Cochise County Sheriff Deputy Tricia Smalley, the two were visited by Santa who took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Gomez about her Christmas wish list. Smalley has been participating in Shop With A Cop since the program started in Benson five years ago. "This is the first time any of the kids I've worked with has won a bicycle," she said. "So, that's pretty exciting."
Two bikes were donated by Apache Nitrogen Products, Inc. and two by a private donor named Amy Purdy. With the helmets and bike locks, the estimated value is about $150 each, representing a $300.00 donation.
"The businesses and individuals in this community are so generous, "said Denise Celentano, the Benson program's executive director and person responsible for introducing Shop With A Cop to this area.
Madison Wichmann, 9, was partnered with Dave Dion, a deputy with the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. "I bought things for all my family first," said Wichmann. When finished with her family's shopping, she still had money for dolls and a stuffed animal for herself.
Following the Walmart visit, the children and police officers then returned to the LDS Church in Pomerene to start wrapping the gifts with the help from Future Business Leaders of America teens and their law enforcement partners.
Children selected for the annual event are part of an application process that adheres to a list of criteria. "The first item on the list is that the child has witnessed the arrest of a parent or sibling," Celentano explained. However, there are situations where children come from needy families and there are no arrests.
Saturday marked the largest number of children who participated in the Benson event. When it first started five years ago, 18 children participated in the program. The number steadily grew every year.
In addition to Smalley, Chief Paul Moncada, Det. Molly Ingram & Det. Brian William of Benson Police Department, also Deputy Julia Davis and Sgt. Tal Parker of Cochise County Sheriff Department and including Officer Reserve Marty Tapia of Department of Public Safety celebrated 5 years with Benson Shop With A Cop.
Dana Cole/News-Sun December 16, 2014
Benson Shop With A Cop Program
where life long memories are made