SPRINGFIELD TWP. Residents along Canton and Killian Roads in Springfield Township might have had a rude awakening Dec. 16 when more than 45 police vehicles with blaring sirens and flashing lights traveled from Springfield Junior Senior High School to Wal-Mart for the annual Shop With A Cop program.
This was the sixth year for the local Shop With A Cop program, which includes the New Franklin, Mogadore, Hartville, Uniontown, Marlboro, Springfield police departments as well as the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OHSP) and the SWAT vehicles that Springfield Sgt. Joe Gaffney was able to bring along for the ride.
In total, there were 73 children and their chaperones descending on the store with happy smiles, laughter and excitement as they held their shopping lists in their hands ready to fill their carts with gifts.
Officer chaperones said they always encourage the children to get something for themselves, but those lists they carry with them have the names of family members they want to buy a Christmas gift for.
The day was filled with breakfast at the school, shopping and then lunch. Santa traveled with the kids helping them shop at Wal-Mart and then to visit with them back at the school.
Manager for Wal-Mart Doug Caffelle said the numbers have grown from last year which, he said, was awesome.
"The Wal-Mart and community partnership is strong," he said.
Caffelle added that it is nice to see the kid’s smiling faces and that they not only buy gifts for themselves, but also for their family.
"It is a good cause all the way around and anytime we can be a part of it, we are going to be," he said.
Linda Lohr, coordinator for Volunteer Auxiliary Springfield Police (VASP), said that due to a prior reservation Maranatha Church could not host the event this year. Springfield Local School District Business Manager Dustin Boswell, however, let them use the high school. That made the parade route 6.5 miles long instead of four miles, but Lohr said she didn’t hear any complaints from any of the children.
"We were so thankful for the use of the school and their resources," she said. "It worked out perfect."
Behind the scenes, while shoppers were shopping, Santa’s helpers were back at the school working to have everything ready when the kids and chaperones came back to the school. Food was donated by local businesses and served by Springfield Fire Chief Vic Wincik and his team of helpers. The gift wrapping elves were under the direction of Cheryl Stanley and they prepared their tape, scissors, tags and paper while waiting for the gifts to arrive.
When the children first arrived at the school, they were checked in and given a Shop With A Cop T-shirt to wear by Amie Biltz and Denise Bolen.
Lohr said it takes hundreds of elves to make it work and especially those behind the scenes like Ray Anderson who ran errands, directed traffic and hauled supplies.
"My biggest helpers in organizing all this was my dear and faithful friend Kate Thurston and our Community Policing Officer, Dan Rafferty," Lohr said. "It takes so many community volunteers and we really appreciate all of them."
Lohr also said there were many sponsors that helped and each year the list grows. This year, there were 27, including a team from Saint Gobain which played a major role in making the event possible, from monthly fundraising to chaperoning to gift wrapping.
"T’s & Things did a wonderful job on our shirts, not only for the children, but for the volunteers, chaperones, gift wrappers and our shopping host, Wal-Mart," Lohr said.
Standing back during the shopping adventure and watching is a big part of the fun for store employees. They take turns getting a chance to welcome the children and watch the excited shoppers enjoying their experience. It is an experience many want to participate in, such as Marla Huber. It was on her bucket list to be a part of the day and to ride in a police car. Huber was shopping with Lakemore Councilwoman Laura Cochran. Huber was Cochran’s fifth grade teacher.
This year, New Franklin brought 26 shoppers, Mogadore had 10, Hartville five, Uniontown 29, Marlboro two, Highway Patrol one and the Springfield Department had 38 shoppers from the township and the village of Lakemore. Each child was given a gift card to shop with and for those that went a little over there were extra funds at the registers, thanks to Wal-Mart, and more than one chaperone or police officer was seen dipping into their pockets to help out.
Many of the volunteers help from year to year and consist of law enforcement officers, community leaders, businesses and residents.
"It is so heartwarming to see all these children having such a good time interacting with Police Officers and Santa Claus," said Lohr.
She said her fondest memory was when chaperones ask her to come sit with the child they were with and "she thanked me for organizing this wonderful day for her. She said that she was able to get some Christmas presents for her family that they would not have had anything for Christmas otherwise." Lohr said. "That is what this program is all about and God truly blessed us this year."