KANNAPOLIS — In the bright Saturday morning sun, a long line of Kannapolis Police cruisers roared into the parking lot of the Target store at Afton Ridge shopping center.
But there was no emergency there, no crime to solve.
Except, perhaps, the need for a brighter Christmas for 18 local families.
“Cops Target Kids for Christmas” was the result of several weeks of work by Kannapolis Police Dept. officers.
Sergeant Daniel Wallace came up with the idea to have officers contribute to meet local families’ needs.
“We were sitting in a staff meeting, and I said, ‘We need to do some more stuff for our kids,’” Wallace said.
Other departments, he said, have similar “shop with a cop”-type programs, but this was the first time it’s been done in Kannapolis.
“Sometimes we take for granted what Christmas is all about,” Police Chief Woody Chavis told his officers and staff earlier that morning at Kannapolis Middle School, where families and police met for breakfast before going shopping.
He congratulated the department for raising nearly $5,000 for the families.
In another room, where they had just finished chicken biscuits donated by Chick-Fil-A, the families and kids gave excited gasps as Wallace mentioned the $250 they’d be given with which to shop.
There were some strings attached: Half of the money, or more, was to be spent on clothes.
When it came to keeping tabs on that budget, “The police officer’s gonna be the bad guy,” Wallace said as parents chuckled.
And, since the special purchases can’t be returned to the store, parents had supplied carefully-made lists of sizes for whatever the kids might pick out.
Then, the families went out to the parking lot, where patrol cars waited to take the kids, in a motorcade, around town and out to Target.
Parents, meanwhile, would have the next couple of hours free to finish their Christmas preparations.
At Target, officers fanned out through the aisles, attracting surprised glances from shoppers, followed by smiles as they heard staff explain what was going on.
Officer Eddie Ashworth was joined by his wife, Kendra. They helped Steven Rayfield, 9, pick out his clothes.
“I’ve got some shoes, and a blue camo shirt, and this,” he said, holding up a long-sleeved shirt.
“Two pair of jeans and then you can go to toys,” Kendra said. “We have a deal.”
The first toy on his list: “Nerf gun!” he said.
Female officers and staff, as well as the wives of police officers, helped the girls pick out clothes.
Sergeant Brent Rowland joked, as he waited for wife Tracy and their shopping partner, 8-year-old Yanet Sanchez, to return from the fitting rooms, “See, this is like any other Saturday for me.”
On a serious note, Rowland said it was fun to be able to help local kids. “That’s what this season’s about, anyway,” he said.
As for Sanchez, she found some nice new clothes: pants, jeans and more.
Her mother, Claudia Sanchez, said Yanet’s teacher had made the connection between their family and the police department.
“It tells us that the police care about our kids. It’s not a bad thing,” Claudia said.
Celine Moore, a 12-year-old student at Kannapolis Intermediate School, picked out a new outfit especially for Christmas, plus some winter clothes.
“My whole family is in Minnesota, so I’m missing this piece with my grandchildren.
“I’m so pleased to see wives and girlfriends here. It’s really a big family event. It’s heartwarming,” she said.
“It’s outstanding to be able to give back to the community,” said Greg Vandaveer, store manager of Target at Afton Ridge.
“Being able to work with the finest, the police, is a great honor,” he said.
He said that the current intention was to make this an annual tradition. Wallace confirmed that plan.
Target sponsored three children, and also donated a cake to the post-shopping party back at the middle school.
“Absolutely phenomenal. It’s part of what I love,” said Therese Roberts, who works in human resources at Target, of her part in the day’s events.
Dressed as an elf, complete with pointed ears, Roberts helped ring up the young shoppers’ purchases.
Aside from making Christmas brighter, the program is a way of helping build positive relationship between police and community, Chavis said.
“We want to help children grow up to be responsible citizens,” Chavis said.
“It allows us to reach out to the community,” Wallace said.
“It’s all about showing the community that law enforcement is a service relationship. We’re creating positive contacts,” he said.
Officer David Zienka, assigned to Kannapolis Middle School as a school resource officer, said it’s important for police to build positive relationships with children.
Especially at Christmas, Zienka said. “It’s just an honor to be able to give back.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.