By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Few things warm the heart at Christmas like the smiles on children’s faces as many, for the first time, are able to shop for things they would like for Christmas for themselves and their families. Sharp County went above and beyond this year as 168 children’s Christmases were made even more merry Dec. 17 at Walmart in Ash Flat during the second annual Sharp County Shop with a Cop event.
Gathering before 8 a.m. at Ash Flat Walmart, officers with Arkansas State Police, Sharp County Sheriff’s Department and police departments in Ash Flat, Highland, Cherokee Village and Cave City, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Ash Flat Fire Department as well as officers from the Arkansas Department of Community Corrections and Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service gathered with Santa to prepare to fulfill Christmas wishes for these children.
The children were also able to visit with the Jolly Old Elf himself before the real fun began. Nearly 40 officers took time out of their Saturday to shop with the children. Armed with shopping carts and one eager child, the officers left the back area with one goal… to make that child’s Christmas memorable. Thanks to the generosity of the community, each was able to spend $100 on anything they wished. After each officer and child pair completed their shopping experience, which included visiting with the officer during their trip, the officers went back and took another child shopping. This went on until all 165 children were able to purchase Christmas gifts.
This is the eighth year for the Sharp County program which began in 2015 when Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officer Roger Tate visited with area law enforcement after he received some money. He expressed a desire to hold a community event that would benefit less fortunate area youth. Tate, who said during the first year of the event that he believes the true spirit of giving doesn’t include publicity, then Cherokee Village Police Chief Rick Crook felt it fitting he be recognized for the organization of such a great event. Tate’s vision has been a tradition every year, except 2020, during the pandemic. In its inaugural year, the collaborative effort raised over $5,000 through community support, first allowing 50 children to shop with a cop. The program has grown by leaps and bounds since. Sheriff Elect Shane Russell said this year the community has been very generous. Despite escalating costs of just about everything in 2022, Sharp County showed up and showed out, by again making Christmas possible for many less fortunate than themselves.
Last year, due to Covid, the traditional fundraising methods like raffles and chili suppers typically utilized as fundraisers were not possible. Shop With a Cop has been blessed in contributions by various civic organizations, churches, businesses and individuals to join in the season of giving and helping during the holiday season.
The children were all excited and many were armed with shopping lists, while others just wished to browse. Bart Simpson, President of the Arkansas Fraternal Order of Police and soon to be Sharp County Chief Deputy, utilized the Walmart application to help his child shop for toys on their list. Children made their way through the store shopping in various areas. Many of the children chose to shop for their families. All were equally as pleased to be able to meet the men and women in uniform and take home some nice Christmas gifts.
The toy isles, electronics and sporting goods were the busiest locations for shoppers. The Grinch even snuck in a few times and photo bombed several pictures. Hardy Police Chief Scott Rose attempted to handcuff him for trying to steal a gift from one of his shoppers cart. But it all ended with a smiling Grinch who returning the gift to the cart and taking a photo with the child.
The purpose for the event, held in cities across America is two fold. Shop with a Cop provides a fun filled day for a number of children in need throughout the county while creating positive relationships with law enforcement. This unique shopping experience assists children and hopes to deter them from choosing a life of crime or violence by demonstrating the officer’s kindness as a community servant. The participating children are identified by various means, including through the Sharp County Department of Human Services. All departments worked together all year, with a push during November and December with the support of businesses and individuals to make such a huge success of this year’s event.
The morning ended as the real meaning of Christmas was revealed at many levels in Sharp County. From the donors, to the officers to the staff at Walmart, the spirit of Christmas was exemplified. Collections to make the 2023 event are already ongoing. Donations can be made at any FNBC branch throughout the year.