It doesn’t take 9-year-old Preston Gunter long to shop. Just a few minutes after he headed into the wilds of Wal-Mart during Sunday’s Shop with a Cop, he was standing in the checkout line with Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Troy Thompson, his shopping buddy. In his cart: an Indiana Jones video game, a Bakugan game and a large bag of Butterfingers. There was one problem. He hadn’t spent enough — there was money remaining on his gift card. So, off he went again with Trooper Thompson, quickly returning with a case for the Bakugan game. “He knew what he wanted and he knew right where to go,” Thompson said. “There were only three of the games, so he was glad he got to be one of the first to go.”
For his part, Preston didn’t say much, but his frequent smiles spoke volumes. He was one of 97 children taking part in Leadership Shawnee’s Shop with a Cop. The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce annually sponsors Leadership Shawnee and requires each class to have a project. This year’s class decided to organize Shop with a Cop and raised $7,500 to buy $75 gift cards for 92 children and presents for five of their siblings who were younger than 18 months. The 92 older children were paired up with a local enforcement officer as a shopping partner. For about two hours, the area just south of Wal-Mart’s book section was packed with children, their parents, cops and Leadership Shawnee class members. Everyone involved genuinely seemed to enjoy the experience. “All the policemen are smiling and all the kids are smiling,” said Felicia Freeman, one of the Leadership Shawnee class members. “It feels good just knowing that we helped make the kids have a good Christmas.” A total of 39 officers from the Shawnee, McLoud and Tecumseh police departments, the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Absentee Shawnee Nation volunteered to help the youngsters shop. Dan Shumaker of the Shawnee Police Department said he was glad he had the opportunity to participate. His first shopping partner was a girl who bought clothes. “Her father thanked me over and over and over,” Shumaker said. “With the economy being the way it is, this is perfect timing. You could see in her face that it made a difference.” Wal-Mart supplied cookies and Hawaiian Punch for the shoppers, their parents and the cops. Brenda Burkey, a department manager, came in on her day off to run a register at a line dedicated for Shop with a Cop sales only. “I’m a sucker for the kids,” she said. “You could see their eyes light up. It was just magic.”
For some shoppers, particularly the older ones, it went fast indeed. Some of the younger ones took a more leisurely pace, savoring the moment and the company of the cop. And the program had an unintended benefit for one person not involved in Shop with a Cop. A lady went to the check-in table to sternly ask how long the policemen would be tied up at the store. When told about another hour and a half, she brightened.
“That’s great — I’m going to speed on my way home.” Despite the potential for abetting in the violation of speed laws, members have discussed continuing Shop with a Cop next year and making it annual event.