For the second time this year, the Springfield Police Department spearheaded the local Shop with a Cop program.
Springfield police officer Billie Laurenti was seen dancing and cheering along with 7-year-old Katrina Bolen and a Minnie Mouse doll in the aisle of the Arlington Road Wal-Mart on Dec. 14.
Christmas does that.
It brings out the best in everyone and, perhaps, that spirit is most apparent during southern Summit County's annual Shop with a Cop program.
The program matches children in the participating communities with police officers and volunteer chaperones for a day of Christmas shopping. It helps to give those families who have fallen on hard times a little more at Christmas.
Shopping at the Arlington Road Wal-Mart might have seemed a little hectic when Shop with a Cop took to the aisles, especially in the toy department, where bikes with young riders were seen speeding around.
On this particular day, however, it probably was the safest place in Springfield Township as 73 children went Christmas shopping with more than 40 police officers, National Guard and Ohio State Highway Patrol for Shop with a Cop.
No one seems to remember how many years local departments have been participating in Shop with a Cop. But it's not the number of years that matter — it's the smiles that it brings to children today.
For the second time this year, the Springfield Police Department spearheaded the day of shopping. Originally, local police departments worked with Stow to participate in the event. When that Shop with a Cop program grew too large to host all the departments, Springfield began the southern Summit program.
Community police departments participating this year were New Franklin, Mogadore, Uniontown and Springfield. For the first time, the Hartville Police Department joined in the program as well.
As always, there was something magical about the event, and it filled the entire store with Christmas spirit.
Everyone could feel it — those dancing in the aisles and those working the registers.
"It is wonderful. I have associates in tears, cashiers are crying in joy getting to see all the kids come through," Wal-Mart store manager Tammy Spradlin said. "It breaks your heart watching them shop and buying things for their families."
It all began at 8 a.m. when kids, officers, volunteer chaperones, gift-wrappers and various volunteers from the community and the church met for breakfast at Maranatha Church.
Head food elves Tammie and Doyle Coontz orchestrated the meal, gathering donations from Giant Eagle, Jubilee donuts, Beilers Penn Dutch Market, Ideal Bakery. And cookie elf Karla Shackelford decorated Santa, badge and police car cookies.
"There are so many people that come together to help with this program," Shop with a Cop co-coordinator Linda Denton said. "They are already volunteering for next year."
After breakfast, 26 school buses, law enforcement and military vehicles turned on the lights, hit the sirens and took off on a special parade that transported the children to the store for their shopping mission.
Because of generous donations from area businesses, community organizations, individuals and a Wal-Mart grant, children received a $150 gift card to spend on collecting their holiday treasures. The amount was an increase from last year's $110 allotment.
The Manchester girls basketball team and its coach Tucker Pappas were among those community residents who made the event a reality. In addition to helping with the shopping day, the girls organized fundraisers to support the program.
Employees from Saint-Gobain in Springfield also held fundraisers to earn money to help the program and were able to provide shopping experiences for 11 of the 26 children shopping from the Springfield-Lakemore area.
Within just a few short minutes of hitting the store aisles, Uniontown officer Shawn Adams was heard telling his little shopper that he had spent his money.
"He knew what he wanted and wanted to make sure his brother had something as well," Adams said. "So, he bought two of everything — two monster trucks, two skateboards."
Hartville Officer Mark Loiudic was one of many who saw his shopping buddy think of others before herself.
"My shopper had a little difficulty deciding what she wanted," Loiudic said. "Her mom wanted her to buy things for herself, but she wanted to buy for others."
The children were encouraged to buy things for themselves, but officers said they are always "blown away" by the fact the kids wanted to spend the money on others first.
"I have had parents ask me to make sure their child only buys for himself," Springfield Police Chief John Smith said, "but, usually, they still want to get something for family."
As the tiny shoppers perused the toy shelves, Damien Sinonik, 8, was having difficulty deciding just what he was going to spend his last $10 on. He was concerned about sticking to his limit.
That's when his shopping buddy stepped in.
"Get what you want; Trust me you have enough," New Franklin Officer Jason Bailey told Sinonik. "I will just pull some favors, and we will make it happen."
Officers and shopper chaperones always are willing to add a little at the register, but Wal-Mart cashiers also had a "secret Santa stash" of gift cards to help with the overage.
At the end of the shopping extravaganza, children loaded back into the vehicles and paraded back to Maranatha with the sirens blaring and Christmas music playing. Back at the church, everyone loaded up on pizza, hot dogs and cookies while 39 jolly elves wrapped all the purchased gifts.
Each child left with a bag of wrapped gifts, smiles and a few doughnuts under his belt. Each child also got a one-on-one visit with Santa Claus, a picture and a stocking stuffed with goodies.
Springfield families also received an entire cooked turkey dinner to take home. Every child and non-uniformed chaperone received a Shop With the Cop T-shirt.
Officer Dave Brown from Uniontown said it gets bigger and better every year.
"The kids love it, and we look forward to it every year," Brown said. "My shopper spent all of his money on his family, and I had to kind of curve him back the other way. He is a great kid."
Next year, when it is getting close to Christmas and you are out and about and see a line of police cars, you will know something good is happening.
"We do more than just writing tickets," said Loiudic. "We are out doing something because we care about the community."
If you see a Springfield car blaring Christmas music with children waving out the windows and an officer wearing a Santa hat, you will know it is Laurenti and her shopping gang.