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Kids, cops go shopping

By Staff | Dec 12, 2010

Justin Okland, 10, picks out some gifts for his family members.

More than a dozen officers filled the entrance of the Blue Earth Wal-Mart on Monday afternoon, prompting a lot of confused — and kind of intimidated — looks on the faces of shoppers entering the store.

Though on duty, the cops weren’t there to catch any thieves or make any arrests. Instead, they accompanied kids through the aisles for a much more light-hearted reason.

The event, quite fittingly called “Shop With a Cop,” gave eight children, ranging in age from 5 to 11 years old, the chance to buy presents for their families at Christmastime.

Selected officers from the Blue Earth, Wells and Winnebago police departments, the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol were on hand to search for the perfect gifts with the children.

“This is a neat deal. You can tell he’s really enjoying it,” Faribault County Chief Deputy Scott Adams says when seeing the excitement of 10-year-old Justin Okland, the child he’s shopping with.

Grace Okland can’t stop smiling as she spots the perfect Christmas present during Faribault County’s “Shop With a Cop” event.

Adams, along with Faribault County Deputy Barry Meyers, also shopped with Justin’s 8-year-old sister, Grace, as the two kids worked together to fill their shopping cart with a variety of items for their grandparents, siblings and mom, who will all have to wait until Christmas to find out what they got.

The idea for “Shop With a Cop” came to Faribault County after Erin Bromeland, a dispatcher for the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office, saw the program being used in Mankato.

She proceeded to talk to Wal-Mart in Blue Earth to see what could be done locally.

“We just tag-teamed with them and got them a grant,” explains Wal-Mart manager Cathy Treanor.

Wal-Mart provided $1,000 for the children to purchase gifts, and other funds came from donations from employees at the sheriff’s office and area police departments.

The children who got to participate were chosen by human services as families they thought were deserving of the opportunity.

Money was allotted to the kids based on how big their family was and how many gifts they’d be buying.

“It came down to about $25 per person they had to buy for,” Bromeland explains.

After finding gifts for everyone on their list, the kids got a chance to spend $50 on Christmas presents for themselves — which came as news to Justin and Grace, whose faces lit up as they mulled over whether they wanted art supplies or games.

When all gifts were paid for and through the checkout, police department and Wal-Mart employees took care of wrapping everything so the kids’ families wouldn’t catch a peek of their presents before Christmas rolls around.

It isn’t decided whether “Shop With a Cop” will become an annual event in Faribault County, but Bromeland says she hopes it can continue. And Wal-Mart seems to be on board already.

“We would definitely like to do it every year,” Treanor says. “It can only get bigger and better.”