HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (12/10/11)—While a down economy and high unemployment rates across the country only add to the dilemma, financial troubles for most families are timeless, and it’s an unfortunate truth that many children will receive little to no gifts for Christmas as a result. However, one of several charitable holiday programs in our region—the annual “Shop With a Cop” Program—has been able change that fact for thousands of local youths over the years.
Initially organized by the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in the early 1980’s, the “Shop With a Cop” Program spread outward and became a big part of the Madisonville/Hopkins County area during the late 1980’s to early 1990s. Overseen by our local FOP group—the Pat Collins FOP Lodge 19—and directly supported by volunteers with the Madisonville Police Department (MPD), Citizen’s Police Academy, Hopkins County Jail, Probation and Parole, Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD), a variety of businesses, a cross-section of generous area residents and groups, and beyond, the program helps to provide new clothing and toys to hundreds of local kids every year.
In building upon this lengthy tradition, members of the FOP and local law enforcement members also provide a breakfast from McDonald’s to the children and their families prior to shopping alongside them for clothes and toys at Madisonville’s Wal-Mart location. What’s more, the officers also escort the children and their families to Capitol 8 Theatre to watch a special holiday film after the shopping is over.
While at the event around 7:30am, December 10th, SurfKY News spoke with MPD officers who were volunteering, FOP volunteers/organizers, and some of the children who were shopping to find out the impact of the program.
A longtime volunteer with the program, MPD Lieutenant Robert Carter, explained that the event gives the police department a great opportunity to interact with the area youth face-to-face while also providing a valuable service. Yet, as he noted, the program wouldn’t have been possible without the strong support the community provides year after year.
“We want all of the readers and community members to know that we thank them for helping out. Because of your generous support, we have more kids participating in the program this year than ever before,” said Lt. Carter. “It’s great getting to be a part of something that has such a positive impact on our youth and I hope we receive the same great support that we always have in the years to come.”
In total, both Lt. Carter and the program’s chief organizer of 17 years—former FOP President Jerry Robards—stated that a total of over 300 kids applied to participate in the event this year. Of that total, a record-breaking 111 underprivileged children received $125 of in-store credit each. As Robards and Lt. Carter explained, $100 will go toward necessities like clothing, while the remaining $25 will be used to find an age-appropriate gift such as a video game, doll, or similar item for each of the children.
Once at the Capital 8 Theatre, where the participants will view a film called Arthur Christmas, officials say that they will pick up popcorn, candy, and drinks for each of the children and their families. Additionally, Santa Clause will be making a special stop before the movie to take pictures with the children. The photos will be developed while the participants are wathcing the movie and will be presented to them as they are leaving, said Robards.
Three local youths who shopped alongside Lt. Carter during today’s event—Brayden Payne, 7; Javan Todd, 11; and Timothy Nelson, 8—said they were excited to be shopping and hanging out with the police officers, and each took the time to say “Thank you.”
“Shopping with the cops is really cool,” said Brayden. “It’s really nice for them to do this for us.”
Other than buying “a lot of clothing,” the boys said that they were hoping to pick up an item called “Dr. Jeff’s Zombie Lab” with their remaining $25.
On the impact of the program, organizer Jerry Robards explained that, “This is the most enjoyable time of the year for a lot of these guys out here volunteering, because they’re getting to help people one-on-one. A lot of the volunteers are not only helping financially, but they’re going around with the people and getting to know their stories on more of a personal level. This event also lets the kids see the police officers in a good light. In fact, I’ve had appreciative people come back in their teens and early twenties and tell me that they remember being a part of the ‘Shop With a Cop’ program.”
“This is the biggest turnout with 111 kids participating this year and, with that in mind, we simply can’t thank everyone in the community enough for their support,” added Robards.
Though the local FOP’s “Shop With a Cop” Program is over for the year, the organization collects funding for the charity-based program all year long. So, if you’re interested in donating, simply send a check or money order with “Shop With a Cop” in the memo line to the following address:
FOP Lodge 19
P.O. Box 365
Madisonville, KY 42431
Photos taken by Jeff Harp of Focus Photography LLC
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