Coatesville-area ‘Shop with a Cop’ a roaring success

From siren-blasting caravan to shopping carts, children get crowd-pleasing ride

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Torey, 7, shows her enthusiasm for the “Shop with a Cop” program as Chester County Deputy Sheriff Natalie Berry pushes the cart.

The scene looked as alarming as it sounded: Two school buses blowing a red light on East Lincoln Highway with more than 30 emergency vehicles behind them,  sirens blaring and flashers illuminating the misty Saturday morning.

“I thought someone had hijacked the buses,” said Janine Richards of Coatesville. She said the commotion had interrupted the breakfast she and a friend were having at Harry’s Restaurant in Sadsbury Township. “It looked serious,” she said.

Richards found out a short time later – when she stopped to do some shopping at the Parkesburg Walmart – that it was serious indeed, but not the way she had feared.

Nicholas, 8, who received personal assistance from Santa as well as Coatesville Police Officer Rodger Ollis, is delighted with the new bike in his shopping cart.

The nearly mile-long caravan was part of “Shop with a Cop,” a program, now in its 10th year, that gives disadvantaged children a shopping spree with a uniformed police escort. About 9:30 a.m., a flotilla of Coatesville-area law-enforcement, accompanied by Santa and 59 excited children, descended on the store – a spectacle welcomed by employees as well as shoppers.

The elementary-school-age children were selected by social-service agencies, given a spending limit of $100, and encouraged to buy gifts for relatives and themselves. Then they were turned loose with an officer who doubled as assistant gift guru and financial advisor.

Donald Folks, a volunteer with a booming voice, served as emcee, helping to match up the teams, which typically featured an excited child with a wish list and a sheriff’s deputy or police officer with a shopping cart.

Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Sibley got right to business with 8-year-old Paul. “We’re finding some good stuff,” said Sibley, who also works as a police officer in South Coatesville.

Coatesville’s newly hired police chief, Stephen Johnson, gets an assist from Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh in the search for just the right candle for 7-year-old Dylan’s mother.

Soon-to-be-sworn-in Coatesville Police Chief Stephen Johnson had a more challenging assignment. With 7-year-old Dylan’s super-specific list, the two combed the candle aisle multiple times before finding the right brand and scent for Dylan’s mother. “Now we’re looking for ladies’ cologne,” Johnson said as he maneuvered the cart toward the perfume department.

Nearby, Coatesville Police Officer Sylvester Earle witnessed a dilemma. The audio Christmas card that 8-year-old Malaysia thought would make her mother smile had put her over budget. She needed to make a trade or shift gears. Disappointed, the girl began to search for a card with a lower pricetag. Earle made eye contact with his 13-year-old daughter Amani Howard Earle, smiled, and handed  Malaysia her first choice. “Go ahead and get it,” he said. “I’ve got you covered.”

The routine was much easier for Deputy Sheriff Natalie Berry, who had Torey in tow. “I didn’t know it was this much fun shopping,” exclaimed the 7-year-old, who proudly listed the gifts she had selected for two sisters and a brother. “Shop with a Cop is awesome.”

Many of the adults were having just as much fun.

West Caln Township Police Chief Curt Martinez poses with his shopper, Monte, 8. Behind him is volunteer Donald Folks (left) and Martinez’s 18-year-old son, C.J.

“I felt like a kid when we were riding on the bus,” said Barbara Walker, a volunteer who, along with Edith Ben, helped with the registration. Walker said she typically works on Saturdays but didn’t want to miss the experience. “I took a vacation day,” she said.

The event sometimes elicits sad revelations, Folks said. He recalled one 6- or 7-year-old boy several years ago who insisted on steering the cart toward the grocery section. When pressed about why his gift list only contained food items, he said there wasn’t much to eat at home. “It just broke our hearts,” said Folks, adding that volunteers made sure the boy left with groceries as well as toys.

Coatesville Det. Shawn Dowds said he appreciated the contagious positive vibe that the event generated. “Did you see how many people came out on the street when we drove by?” he asked. “It was great.” Another plus: The children appeared to have fun selecting gifts for others. “It’s not just gimme, gimme,” he said.

Coatesville Community Policing Officer Rodger Ollis, one of the organizers, said he was pleased that so many of the officers brought family members along to help. And even though Johnson’s not even on the payroll yet, he followed suit: He was accompanied by his mother, Stella.

Eight-year-old Malaysia (left) gets shopping advice from Coatesville Officer Sylvester Earle and his 13-year-old daughter, Amani Howard Earle.

Donations from a plethora of community businesses make the event possible. This year’s gathering represented a partnership between the Witmer Public Safety Group, Inc., which operates the Fire Store, Officer Store, and EMS store; and Hope Beyond Borders, a Coatesville-based nonprofit that focuses on urban and international development.

As in past years, Jim and Faith Witmer stationed themselves in the back of the store near the toy department to watch the action.

“This event couldn’t happen without their support,” said Ollis. He said generous donations from the West End Fire Company, Exelon, Krapf’s Buses, Walmart, and a host of others contributed to the success of the program. The other key component: the volunteers.

Chester County Deputy Sheriff Adam Sibley helps 8-year-old Paul makes his gift selections.

Dozens of people came in on their days off to help with the preparation as well as the actual shopping extravaganza and the subsequent present-wrapping, Ollis said. He said police departments in Valley, West Caln, Sadsbury, West Sadsbury, and South Coatesville were represented, as well as the Sheriff’s Department and Chester County Detectives.

Marie Hess, who heads Coatesville’s Parks and Recreation Department, enjoyed doing  double duty as a photographer as well as an interpreter for some of the Spanish-speaking children.  “This is just fantastic,” she said.

“I love this event,” Ollis concurred. “I think it  reaps great rewards that go well beyond the three hours we spend at Walmart. In the future, when one of these kids needs to reach out to a police officer for whatever reason, there’s a comfort level for the child as well as their parents that might not have existed before.

“I think it benefits the police officers, too,” he added. “It may change their perspective … Everyone wins.”

As the program wound down, a woman scurried around the store and handed hastily-scribbled, thank-you cards to the officers, disappearing before they had time to read them.

“I have no idea who she was,” Ollis said. “It was just a random act of kindness –  special because that’s what this was about.”



Pin It

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment