By Bailey Wright
SOUTHINGTON — As 8-year-old Daymian Rogers runs around Target deciding what to buy, he tries on a neon green helmet sporting a plastic mohawk and throws it in his cart with the biggest grin on his face. He and 65 other kids had a chance to buy whatever they wanted in the store during the 5th annual Shop With a Cop event Thursday night.
The REACH Foundation partnered with police from 40 different departments for their annual event which pairs up officers and local kids in need for a holiday shopping spree.
The kids were each given $100 to spend on presents for themselves and their families, with guidance from the officers who also had another $25 to buy a gift for a child in their own community.
Dave DeVito, a state trooper who lives in Wallingford, was partnered wtih Rogers for his fifth year participating in the event. “Sometimes we have as much, or more, fun than the kids do,” he said.
“I feel I’ve been blessed in so many ways, it’s nice to… make their day a little bit brighter,” DeVito said. “It’s well worth doing it in your time… You get a positive feeling out of it.”
Event Coordinator for the REACH Foundation, Kelly Andrews, said they first started Shop With a Cop when the foundation’s founder, Mark Wilson, saw it happen in Arkansas. The foundation has put their own spin on the event, adding a meet and greet with the participants before shopping- inlcuding pizza, video games and bowling at Crystal Bee’s.
Andrews said they could probably do the shopping event with any service professionals, but decided that it was important to start strengthening the relationships between the at-risk communities and local law enforcement at a time when it felt broken.
“We want to help the kids understand that some of the bad things are isolated incidents and that these officers are a resource for these kids and to help the kids see the officers in a different light- that they’re human, they’re fun, they’re good,” she said.
The kids and officers departed Crystal Bee’s and headed to Target in a procession with sirens wailing and lights flashing as they made their way to the store. Target employees joined the officers flanked at the entrance to applaud the kids as they walked in.
Kayla Tanguay, a senior team leader at Target, said some employees came out from other stores, including Newington and Meriden, just to help with this event.
“Our team members actually volunteer their time to come here and be willing to cheer on the kids and just be here to help shop,” Tanguay said. “Some did volunteer just to have fun, take pictures, and just be a presence for the kids and connect that community involvement.”
Target put together special, decorated shopping carts and designated checkout lanes just for the officers checking out with their kids, with the goal of making it as streamless as possible. The team also put together free treats for the participatints as they were leaving, such as popcorn and small Starbucks drinks, as well as a special goodie bag provided also by the REACH Foundation.
Meriden police officer Jeff Witkins was helping 9-year-old Jozlyn Useforge from Bristol shop for her family. Useforge has six brothers, so Witkins encouraged her to find something for herself first. Junior Teen Miss Southington Hayler Derwin helped them look for shoes for her to take home.
“It’s the most important thing we do all year— giving back to the kids,” Witkins said.