Police Run Families In -- And Give Them $115 to Shop for Christmas
Urbandale Police Officers take 15 children shopping at the Urbandale Super Target for the third annual Shop with a Cop event. Each child got to spend $115 for gifts for themselves and family members while feeling safe shopping with a cop.
Officer Melissa Waalk just graduated from the police academy on Friday. One of the first things she got do to as an Urbandale Police Officer was take children Christmas shopping.
“This is part of the reason why I wanted to (become an officer),” Waalk said. “I wanted to help people. To make people happy."
Officer Waalk helped eight other reserve and regular police officers shop Tuesday with children ages 6-12 at the Urbandale Super Target, for the third annual Shop with a Cop program. The Urbandale Police Department works with the Urbandale Food Pantry each year to identify families in need, then takes the children of those families Christmas shopping on the department’s dime.
As the night progressed, the department realized the need they had for an officer like Waalk, who is bilingual. A few of the families participating in the program arrived unable to understand the officers helping their children. The Spanish-speaking Officer Waalk stepped in and eased the language barriers among the officers, parents and chidren.
“We’ve really been needing her,” said Sgt. Gary Lang.
Waalk took Betsy Ramirez, 6, shopping for Barbies, speaking in English. When she talked to her mother, Maribel Ramirez, she spoke Spanish. As a group, they were able to purchase everything on Betsy’s list.
Favian Moreno, 10, couldn’t believe how much he got to spend. He kept having to clarify his budget with his shopping partner, reserve officer Kelly Burton.
“I thought you meant I only had $20 left to spend,” Moreno said. “You mean I’ve only spent $20? It’s hard to buy this much. This is a lot of fun.”
Moreno had picked out a practical item for his family – a pack of flashlights. To make the budget, the duo took a trip to the video game aisle.
Officer Randy Peterson, the Urbandale Police spokesman, said the officers continue to do this program because it's a good way to connect with the community.
“Someday down the road, this experience might mean the difference between that child making a right or wrong decision,” Peterson said. “If this interaction sticks with them in the back of their minds, it might mean them making the right decision.”
The shopping spree was made possible by various donations, the two main being $750 in a grant from Target and $500 from the Urbandale Police and Protective Benevolent Association.
“It’s such a great feeling to call them and tell them about this,” Peterson said. “You can hear over the phone that a weight has just been lifted off their shoulders.”
Hana Softic of Urbandale was one of the parents who called this year.
“It’s so sweet. It’s something very good,” Softic said of the program. “They were so excited about a policeman taking them shopping. I’m so happy for them.”
In the past years, officers have stayed to help the children wrap their gifts. This year, the group had to race to City Hall for the 7 p.m. council meeting to be recognized for various reasons. Four officers were also sworn in at the meeting after graduating from the academy last week. Despite their packed schedule, the officers still made a point to take each child shopping.
“They always like to help with these things,” Peterson said.