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December 16, 2009 > 'Shop with a cop' brings joy to kids

'Shop with a cop' brings joy to kids

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By William Mancebo

The excited, smiling faces at 'Shop with a Cop' didn't only belong to those of the youngsters involved, but also to the groups of dedicated volunteers and police officers who came to share their time with them.

"This is my third year participating," says Detective Mike Tegner. "I love bringing the kids here to shop for their families and seeing the kids' excitement in being able to purchase anything they want for their family. I have a couple of kids of my own and these kids deserve the same opportunity," says Tegner.

Funds for the program are donated by local businesses, community groups, the public and the police officers themselves. Generous contributions were received from sponsors: Fremont Bank, Target, Mission San Jose Rotary Club, Fremont Police Officers Association, Outback Restaurant, Starbucks, Fremont Association of City, Teamsters and employees of the Fremont Police Department.

Martha Matthiesen, Community Engagement Specialist for the Fremont Police Department, coordinated the 'Shop with a Cop" efforts. According to Matthiesen, "The program invites 20 low income children identified by the Family Resource Center of the Human Services Department, to purchase holiday gifts for family members during a shopping spree at Target."

Eka Kato, a social worker for the City of Fremont's Family Resource Center, says that the children selected must meet certain criteria. They have to be from a low-income family, attending a Fremont school, and receiving services from the Family Resource Center.

Once the child is selected, the Family Resource Center helps the family prepare a "wish list" for the shopping trip. On average, each child is allotted approximately $30 - $50 for each family member. Separate gifts for the children are purchased ahead of time by the program.

Kato adds, "For some clients, this positive interaction may give the child and family members a different perspective of police officers, to take the fear of them away."

On the morning of the event, participating children are picked up at their elementary schools by Fremont Police Officers and transported to Target in police cars sporting festive reindeer antlers.

Once at Target, the children and their officers, accompanied by Target store employees, try to match their family's 'wish list,' as they peruse the merchandise. The children are given a designated gift card to pay for their purchases, although many officers have been known to dig into their own pockets to make up the difference.

This was the first year that Lt. John Liu participated in the program. He escorted a quiet 5 year old boy, suggesting possible gift choices for the family members. "This is my first opportunity for a day shift. I've always wanted to do this as it's a great program."

To keep the children and volunteers warm outside, while awaiting their shopping turn, Starbucks donated hot beverages and pastries for the chilly morning.

Sgt, Jeff Campbell escorted a 4th grade girl with her shopping spree. "This is voluntary and helps get you in the Christmas mood because as police officers we have to work holidays; this event gets us in the holiday spirit. A lot of what we do is sometimes negative in nature. This is great for the kids but I get a lot out of it too and it helps them see us in a positive light," says Campbell.

Outside in the parking lot, a canopy housed an area set aside for activities, crafts and present wrapping. Many volunteers from Target, the Mission San Jose Rotary Club, and the Police Department's CARE program, helped the youngsters and officers quickly and efficiently wrap and organize the many presents.

Mission San Jose Rotary Club brought 11 members to help wrap the children's gifts. Shirley Wein, President Elect of the club added, "Our group gives a large donation toward 'Shop with a Cop,' and we have been involved for the six years. Our focus is on education and we try to help with projects city and worldwide, wherever there is a need."

After shopping and wrapping had been completed, Outback Restaurant generously provided lunch for the hungry group.

Half-Price Books District Manager, Matt Dalton, and Fremont Store Manager, Pamela Yamamoto, were there to show their support. "We donate books for each child and the officers and Rotary club members pick them up," says Dalton. "It's a great time to be getting and giving books. Any opportunity to get the word out about reading is a winning situation."

Target Store team leader Flavio Garzon explains the company's involvement, "We believe in giving back to the community. Throughout the year, we donate 5 percent to the community and this is just our way. This is our 6th year participating with the Fremont Police Department," says Garzon. "We are helping 20 underprivileged youth by providing them a little bit of Christmas."

Target donated $2,500 to the program, gift wrap for all the presents, employees' time to volunteer throughout the day and invited Santa to spend time with the kids.

Assisting a 5th grade boy, who was enamored with his new gift of an IPOD Nano, was Officer Ken Kwok. "It's nice to have a positive interaction with the community and to put a smile on a kid's face," says Kwok. "For those of us who have enough to give, it makes us feel better to give if we can."

Sgt. Tony Tassano, summed up his own perspective, "This event is a lot of fun. I wish my kids were here to appreciate how fortunate we are."

If you are interested in supporting 'Shop with a Cop,' send your donation or check payable to:

'Shop with a Cop'
c/o Martha Matthiesen, Community Engagement Specialist
Fremont Police Department
2000 Stevenson Boulevard
Fremont, CA 94538

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