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Cops excited to interact with local children

During last year's Shop with a Cop event, 7-year-old Mercedes Nelson explains to Zumbrota police officer Gene Leifeld what kind of gift her Chihuahua, CC, would like.1 / 2
Pam Horlitz helps wrap presents during the 2011 Shop with a Cop.2 / 2

This Saturday, 20 local police officers will respond to Walmart, 295 S. Tyler Road. Their call? Helping area children in need buy Christmas presents for their families.

"We try to provide a positive environment for kids," said Red Wing police officer Adam Crain of the annual Shop with a Cop event. "They can interact with us in a very calm environment."

Crain is the president of the Red Wing Police Benevolent Association, which organizes the annual event.

The shopping spree will begin around 11 a.m., Crain said. The day will start with a quick lunch and then the officers, paired one-on-one with a child, will hit the Walmart aisles to help pick out presents.

The Red Wing Family YMCA staff helps choose the children who participate in the program. Crain said many of the children have had rough times in their lives or may not have had positive interactions with police.

"We want them to try to get to know the police outside the job," Crain said.

Police officers from departments throughout Goodhue County -- including Kenyon and Zumbrota -- take part in the event. Crain said officers get chances throughout the year to spend time with children, but they're not always as lengthy as Shop with a Cop.

"This is the best opportunity," Crain said. "This is by far the largest interaction we have with the kids."

This year, 20 children -- who range in age from 6 to 17 years old -- will be able to take part. Each child will be given $125 to shop for their families.

To fund the shopping spree, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., donated $1,000 for the event, and the local store donated $300. The Police Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police each gave $500.

For the first time this year, Red Wing Noontime Kiwanis will also donate financially, chipping in $500. In the past, Kiwanis members have helped wrap the children's presents for them. But this year, they wanted to do more.

"We're participating on a greater level this year," Kiwanis member Bob Behrens said, adding that his group's goal is to help children.

"(Shop with a Cop) has an extreme parallel with the Kiwanis mission," he said, which is to change the world one child and one community at a time.

Once the officers and kids are done shopping and have checked out, they will be able to tour an ambulance and fire truck -- which will be parked in the Walmart parking lot -- before heading home to place their newly purchased gifts under Christmas trees.

"In the end, they're always grateful that we took the time to shop with them, to be with them," Crain said.

"The program is a wonderful community-spirited program that helps youth that ordinarily would not have the opportunity to gain holiday gifts for their family members," Behrens said. "We just think it's a win-win situation to be able to help out kids and families in need."

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.