Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Estes Hills Elementary Students “Shop with a Cop”

While most of their classmates were working on math or reading Tuesday morning, 50 energized Eagles from Estes Hills Elementary boarded activity buses to “shop with a cop.” Led by a pair of Orange County sheriffs on motorcycles, the students were treated to a full motorcade, blue lights flashing, all the way to the Walmart in Hillsborough. As one officer told a student standing in line for the bus, “It’s just like the president in his motorcade.”

When the buses arrived in front of a very busy Walmart, rows of police cruisers and motorcycles brought the nearly 50 officers who were waiting to be transformed into personal shoppers. Eight law enforcement agencies partnered with the initiative this year: Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Mebane, UNC Hospital and UNC Police Departments, as well Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Each officer matched up with a student, or in a few cases, a pair of students, and off they went into the crowded aisles of the store, orange shopping lists in hand. Every student received a $100 gift card.

The Optimist Club of Chapel Hill began organizing the event in 2012 when they selected Carrboro Elementary as a partner. For the first few years, 20 children were chosen to go on the shopping sprees, but last year the number grew to 40, and this year, 50 students in grades K-5 participated. Trish Verne, president of the club, said that the goal for Shop with a Cop reaches beyond the desire to help families experience a brighter holiday season; for many children, this is an important early exposure to law enforcement. “We want to start building bridges now,” Verne said, in hopes that positive associations and trust can form.

Betsy Booth, social worker at Estes Hills Elementary, said she’d been waiting 23 years during her time at the school, in hopes that her students could benefit from a holiday program like Shop with a Cop. She organized the event, writing letters to parents for permission and collaborating on shopping lists, lining up drivers and helpers from the school. “Shop with a Cop was a tremendous event!” she said. “Many children bought gifts for family members in addition to toys and clothes for themselves.  The enthusiasm was overwhelming, and I think the police officers enjoyed the event as much as the kids.”

The officers engaged fully in the shopping process, advising children on purchases, praising their selections. One boy chose poinsettias for his mother and grandmother, another picked out a bracelet for his mother, and many children used part of their $100 to buy gifts for younger siblings. For the students themselves, there was a lot of Slime and Pokemon cards in the shopping carts, Legos and dolls, in addition to socks, shirts and sweaters. One student held his new fishing pole proudly, and he talked about how much he loves to go fishing with his grandfather. 

When the last of the students left the store, alongside officers pushing carts filled with huge plastic bags, the Eagles boarded the buses again for the bells-and-whistles ride back to Estes Hills.

“The children felt so special,” said Booth. “Thank you to the Optimist Club and all the local police departments for sponsoring this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

To learn more about the Optimist Club, visit  Trish Verne is accepting donations for next year’s Shop with a Cop. Checks can be mailed to her at 6803 Turkey Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514