Event builds connections

— The sight of 13 police vehicles storming into the Walmart parking lot causes quite a commotion.

But it wasn’t a major crime or injury that brought officers from four different law enforcement agencies to the mega-retailer Saturday afternoon. It was the annual Shop with a Cop event, where members of the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol, Colville Tribal Police Department and Brewster Police Department took 25 children from the community on a shopping spree.

Dave Rodriguez, chief criminal deputy for the Sheriff’s Office, said Shop with a Cop is “the highlight of my year.”

Rodriguez credited the Support Center for organizing much of the event and putting together the list of children in need.

Support Center Financial Manager Tanya Bunting said it’s a “fabulous” event and experience for the children involved.

“Normally the kids see officers in a negative light,” Bunting said. “This is a way for them to see officers in a positive light.

“It means a lot for the children.”

The fun-filled day isn’t just about shopping, though. It began with bowling and lunch at Valley Lanes.

“It’s a good deal,” Rodriguez said. “They get to spend a day with a cop, do something physical — bowling — and then pick up things they need and some Christmas gifts.”

After lunch, the police officers and their entourage traveled across the highway, lights blazing, to begin the shopping.

Sheriff Frank Rogers said sometimes his office gets calls about all the police activity, “but that’s part of the excitement,” he said.

Many of the children said the shopping was the highlight of their day.

Ten-year-old Zandy Vasquez said the best gift she received was a skateboard.

“I’m going to try to learn to skateboard,” she said.

Meanwhile, her little brother, Michael, 8, was stoked about his Black Ops zombie blow darts and still euphoric about his success at the bowling alley.

Nerf guns and Hot Wheels were popular items among the youngsters. Perhaps influenced by their law enforcement companions, several picked out police Hot Wheels.

Five-year-old Dodge Holcomb learned a lesson in budgeting as he debated between action figures and a Nerf crossbow.

Each child was allotted a certain amount of money to spend at Walmart. Some of the money was set aside for need items, like shoes and clothing; the rest was for Christmas gifts.

Some even picked up items for siblings at home.

“It gets you in the Christmas spirit,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes Christmas gets kind of commercialized. You get these guys and at first, they don’t believe they get to go in and pick out stuff that they want. After a while, they get into the swing of things. It’s really good.”

U.S. Border Patrol originally began Shop with a Cop in Oroville. The Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office took over the event last year and plans to continue it in the future.

“Most guys are here on their days off,” Rodriguez said.

He credited the Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard with spearheading most of the fundraising for the event.

“It’s all donations,” he said. “There’s no county money involved.”

The total bill comes to about $4,000 for the 25 children for bowling, lunch and shopping. Both Walmart and Valley Lanes gave discounts for their portions.

The children ranged in age from 5 to 15.

Bunting said she coordinates the children who participate, but all the Support Center advocates put in time to make Shop with a Cop a success.


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