The Fraternal Order of Police Shop With a Cop program is marking its 23rd year, but as with so many things, the arrival of COVID-19 means the annual event will look a little different.
Det. Maj. Steve Chesser has been coordinating the Vincennes FOP’s Shop With a Cop program from the time local officers began participating in this nationwide community outreach program years ago.
This year, they hope to continue the tradition of providing nearly 200 Knox County youngsters with a Christmas to remember.
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 concerns, area children will not get the opportunity to shop with one of their neighborhood heroes in blue.
Typically, excited youngsters would gather outside Pace Community Action Agency Inc., 525 N. Fourth St., then are taken by bus to Walmart, escorted by dozens of law enforcement officers, lights and sirens ablaze. Once there, children typically get to spend the morning shopping for toys and clothes, and of course visiting with Santa Claus, all while getting special attention from local law enforcement officers.
This year to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, parents will shop for their own children, but it will be the officers who deliver the gifts to homes.
Chesser explained that “the parent or guardian will be the one to do the shopping at Walmart instead of the police officers physically doing so with the child.”
Police will then deliver the pre-selected items to the child at their home on Dec. 8.
Though law enforcement officers will be donning face coverings and won’t enter the homes of the kids when delivering gifts, Chesser says there are still ways to make the day special.
Last year the FOP met their goal of raising enough funds to spend $210 per child, and Chesser believes they will be able to meet that goal again this year, in part because they have nearly 20 fewer children registered for the program.
However, he added, fundraising is lagging behind somewhat.
“The money is coming in a little slower than I expected,” Chesser said, before adding with a laugh that “of course nobody’s eaten their turkey yet, so they may not be thinking about Christmas.”
For most police officers, Shop With a Cop is an incredibly special part of the Christmas season, and while they won’t have the opportunity to shop with local kids, Chesser says it will still be a meaningful time for them.
“We won’t go inside the home, but we will greet the children at the front door and will make time for conversations and can take pictures if they like.
“And would I rule out a kid hugging us? No, I wouldn’t,” Chesser added.
Officers over the years — which include Vincennes University officers, county sheriff’s deputies, local conservation officers and even prison guards from the state prison in Carlisle — use this as an opportunity to give back to children but also to create bonds with them that often last a lifetime.
Chesser explains that typically, in their line of work, officers go into homes to deal with problems like domestic violence or drugs and that it’s easy for children to be fearful of police officers, particularly when they witness and officer arresting a family member.
“Shop with a Cop is a bonding experience that lets them know we’re human and that they can trust us. They might see us later and think we’re pretty cool after all,” he said.
Donations for the program are accepted year-round and can be sent to: Shop With a Cop, c/o Vincennes Police Dept., 501 Busseron St., Vincennes, IN 47591. They can also be mailed to the F.O.P at P.O. Box 62.
For more information contact Chesser at 812-882-1630.