The tough stuff police officers encounter on a daily basis usually outpaces the more gratifying moments they experience. But the Tempe Police Department is doing what it can to foster the more rewarding side of policing with a program called Kids + Cops Holiday Shop. It gives officers a chance to support the children they meet while out on a call by giving them a holiday they might not otherwise have.
“It’s an opportunity for our officers to go out, as well as ASU police officers, and take children from the age of six to twelve on a shopping spree who would otherwise not really have a Christmas,” explained Michael Pooley, a Lieutenant with the Tempe Police Department.
This will be the second year of the Kids + Cops Holiday Shop in Tempe. In previous years, Tempe joined with other agencies to provide a special day of shopping for kids and families across the valley. But the Tempe Police department really wanted to pair the officers up with the specific children they encounter while out on their calls in Tempe.
“So what we did is we partnered with ASU, the ASU Police Department, the Tempe Police Foundation and several other organizations. Our officers, as they were out and about on the streets, they came into contact with a lot of families, and a lot of families in need, unfortunately. Starting about this time of year, we’d see if these families would be able to provide a Christmas for their children, gifts, anything that a lot of kids hope for right around Christmas time,” said Pooley. “They would come and find out if there was anything they could do to help out. When they identified a child, that’s when we would get together with the family, the mom, the dad, the guardian, whoever it may be, and tell them about our program and ask them if that would be something that their child and they would like to participate in.”
The children and families who participate will be treated to a catered breakfast with their officer and a $150 shopping spree at Target. Officers and volunteers indulge the children in a bunch of fun activities, too, including the opportunity to ride in a police motorcade to the store, complete with lights and sirens.
“We are planning on having Tempe Police Department’s SWAT vehicle, McGruff (the Crime Dog), ASU’s Sparky mascot, and ASU’s canines ‘Tillman’ and ‘Disney’ on hand to celebrate with the kids and their families in our Winter Wonderland setting,” adds Megan Hanks, Volunteer Coordinator with the Tempe Police Department. “(ASU) Greek Life will be there with goodie bags for each child and to host craft activities. In addition, Santa Claus will be there, in a custom Santa chair donated by the community.”
The children get a wonderful holiday experience and arms full of goodies to take home, but the officers come away with stories of generosity and selflessness that renew their sense of purpose in an often thankless job.
“Having done this before, it was so humbling to see these kids that, when you take them shopping, the majority of them want to buy presents for their mom, or their dad or their brother or their sisters. They very rarely think of themselves,” recalls Pooley. “They come from almost circumstances where they want to go and buy something they think would make their family happy. Every year that I’ve participated, it really does bring tears to my eyes. I’m just humbled by these children that are living in our neighborhood, that are living here in Tempe, that are trying to give to their own family.”
Hanks says that’s the best part about the program: sharing in the holiday spirit with our community.
“It’s absolutely magical to see the faces of these kids light up, and it’s contagious,” she said. “Our officers look forward to this event every year just as much as the kids do. We love these opportunities to engage with our community; it reminds us that we are all human, that we all need a little help sometimes and that we are all capable of doing nice things for others, whether it is sharing in a hug or shopping for the holidays.”
The officers hope to provide a holiday shopping experience for around 50 children this year, according to Pooley. The pre-shopping festivities will be hosted on Saturday, December 10th in the Adelphi Commons on the ASU campus.
Hanks notes that the entire event is completely dependent on volunteers and donations. If you would like to sponsor a child, all donations are tax deductible through the Tempe Police Foundation. Event sponsorships are also available. For more information, contact Megan Hanks at [email protected], or Officer Michael Pooley at (480) 858-6087 or via email at [email protected]