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‘Shop with a Cop’ inspires Christmas spirit

By Rebecca Rider
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Traffic ground to a halt Saturday morning as more than a dozen police cars pulled into Walmart, sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. But law enforcement officers weren’t there to bust a crime or arrest a criminal – they were there to bring Christmas to more than two dozen local children.

This is the fourth year law enforcement agencies across Rowan County have banded together to present “Shop with a Cop,” a day where officers and deputies take children from local schools Christmas shopping.

“It’s just a day we look forward to,” Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said.

On Saturday, Auten stationed himself in Walmart’s toy section, dressed in a bright and festive Christmas sweater. As officers came through with their charges looking for toys and gifts, Auten would point them in the right direction.

The event is organized in part by local School Resource Officers, and is funded by the Walmart Foundation, individual donors and the resource officers themselves. In addition to providing gifts and a shopping trip to children who may not get a Christmas otherwise, Auten said it also helps strengthen relationships between officers and students.

“The officers get to know the students, and the students get to know the officers. …And that’s just as important as shopping,” he said.

This year, 26 local students paired up with officers from nearly every agency in the county. That’s the most the program has ever had, said Ryan Walker, the event’s main organizer.

“It’s grown every year,” he said.

When Shop with a Cop launched four years ago, only 10 students participated and each was given a $50 budget. This year, participants capped at 26, and each has a budget of $200.

“I had at least six applicants I didn’t fill just because we didn’t have the money,” Walker said.

Next year, he’s hoping they’ll be able to add more students.

For some students, it’s a chance to catch up with old friends. Ashley, a freshman at West Rowan High School, was paired with her old middle school’s resource officer, D.D. Lindley. The two strike up a joking conversation as they browse through the aisles, but Ashley has a goal in mind.

“She said she knows exactly what she needs to get,” Lindley said.

However, the items Ashley throws in her cart aren’t presents for her.

“I want to make my mom a basket,” she said. “She likes smelling good all the time, but she’d never come and get something for herself.”

Her shopping list also includes an aunt and other family members.

“(My mom) wants me to get stuff for myself, but I don’t know what to get for myself,” Ashley said. “So I’m just going to get stuff for everyone else.”

Lindley has been participating in Shop with a Cop for years, and said in that time he’s come up with advice for students who aren’t sure what to buy.

“Think about something that you really want, but you don’t want to spend the money on,” he said.

But even when the junior shoppers have a list of what they want, they still take the time to buy presents for their family. Ja’Mir, a student at Knox Middle, has a cart full of toys — but it’s not all for him.

“Some of it is for my sister,” he said.

The biggest item in his cart, in fact, is a large baby doll that talks, cries and lets you blow its nose.

“This is like the Cadillac of baby dolls,” Officer Isaac Miller jokes.

After they’ve checked out, the students are invited to the back of the store to enjoy refreshments. Then, they head to First Baptist Church — where the day began with breakfast that morning — to wrap their presents, eat lunch and make Christmas crafts.

This year, Shop with a Cop was sponsored by the Walmart Foundation, Krispy Kreme Donuts, the Rowan County Bar Association and by various individuals. Those who are interested in learning more, or who are interested in sponsoring next year’s shopping trip, should contact Deputy Ryan Walker with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

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