About 100 children enjoyed a trip to the store to shop for their family members for Christmas Saturday, Dec. 7. The children were paired with officers from local law enforcement agencies as part of the Scotts Bluff County Shop With a Cop program.

The Gering Police Department organizes the event each year. Children are given $75 each for a family member. Jayla Ward and her brother, Lane, both 10 years old, were among the children shopping. Jayla had set her sights on shopping for her 2-year-old sister, Hayley, and her mom, Ellie, while Lane shopped for his dad, Ronny.

PHOTOS: Shop with a Cop 2019

“Our sister likes puppies, Barbies and babies, in that order,” Jayla said, not giving a hint about which one of the categories she had picked from for her little sister.

Lane said he had drawn up his shopping list ahead of heading to Walmart.

“It was really fun and exciting,” he said of his trip to the store. “We’re both really thankful we were picked.”

Gering Police Chief George Holthus said the program is a great opportunity for officers and children to bond and interact in a good way.

“It is such a positive interaction with the young people for the officers,” he said. “This gives them (the officers) an opportunity to do something for young people and the community.”

Oftentimes, officers participating on Saturday said, law enforcement interactions aren’t necessarily positive as police make arrests or respond to emergencies. During Shop with A Cop, kids enjoy cookies and hot chocolate at the Hampton Inn before setting off on a shopping trip. En route to the shopping trip, officers and kids travel in police vehicles, with sirens sounding and kids may even get to have some fun with equipment, like speakers and buttons in the cars.

The kids are also treated to a gift from the officer who accompanies them on their shopping trip. This year, Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Chris Baer and his two daughters were among the “Secret Santas,” who were surreptitiously shopping for the children as they shopped with their children and officers were given an idea of their interests. The Gering Police Department added that component to the program last year, with organizer Justin Brunz having explained that officers were often purchasing gifts for the children out of their own funds.

Volunteers also wrap the presents for the children, who get to pick out wrapping paper and ribbons to adorn the presents. Do kids think they’ll be able to keep the gifts that they gathered for their recipients a secret? Naomi Dunmire, 11, said she wouldn’t have any problem, although Gering Police Officer Adam Scanlan got to see the package of gum she had purchased for him. Dunmire said she was most excited about the gifts that she had purchased for her 15-year-old brother.

The event is also fun for shoppers and staff at the store. This year, kids and officers visited Walmart for the Shop with A Cop program. As kids walked the aisles with their shopping cop, shoppers could be heard sharing in the children’s excitement and thanking officers for the program. Jenny Powell, a team lead who checked children out at a dedicated register for the program, said, “It’s fun to see what the kids buy when they are shopping. They are so excited.”

Funds for this year’s program are still needed. People can contribute via a Go Fund Me account, https://tinyurl.com/GeringShopWithACop. Donation funds are also set up at Platte Valley Bank, or you can stop by the Gering Police Department and contribute to the program. Donations are accepted all year for the program.

Other entities throughout the Panhandle are also hosting Shop with A Cop events, including Kimball, Sidney, Morrill and Chadron. Check with your department to see how you can contribute to a local program.

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