Stoffel adds student power to ‘Shop with a Cop’

Huntington Police Department Patrolman Ben Spurgeon (left) helps Kaliyah Raichart make a tough decision on which toy to purchase as they shop together during the Shop with a Cop event last year at the Huntington Walmart. This year’s shopping night takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 18.
Huntington Police Department Patrolman Ben Spurgeon (left) helps Kaliyah Raichart make a tough decision on which toy to purchase as they shop together during the Shop with a Cop event last year at the Huntington Walmart. This year’s shopping night takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 18. TAB file photo

When the 16th annual Shop with a Cop night gets underway on Tuesday, Dec. 18, Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel will have extra manpower to help underprivileged kids shop for Christmas. Now, he just needs some donations.

Stoffel, who now teaches a criminal justice class at Huntington North High School, will have his students lend a hand during the special shopping night, which will begin at 6 p.m. at the Huntington Walmart store. They’ll join law enforcement officers from every agency in Huntington County as well as Indiana State Police, excise officers and neighboring county police departments.

Last year the program took 48 children on a shopping spree, each teamed up with a uniformed officer and having at least $100 to spend. Stoffel expects there will be more kids this year, as word of the program spreads. He wants to raise $6,000 for Shop with a Cop again this year, and has a grant for $2,500 from Walmart to get started. He hopes he can count on the same generosity shown last Christmas when he made an appeal.

“We’ve been very blessed with the community the last eight years of me being sheriff to have plenty of money to take care of all the kids that week,” he adds. “Our community really is generous and gives in areas like that.”

Counselors at Huntington County Community School Corporation’s elementary schools are already sending in names of children they have targeted as facing a bleak Christmas this year.

“I think the need is going to be up again this year. Regardless of monetary problems and stuff at home, health problems sure put a damper on people’s families, too. Somebody getting cancer in the family can really drain the resources and money,” Stoffel says.

“The families that get picked are really genuinely people that need some help and need just a helping hand. These are families and kids that would not receive anything at all for Christmas, and this is a way that they’re going to be able to enjoy Christmas.”

What takes place inside Walmart during the shopping trip is heartwarming, Stoffel says. Oftentimes the cops that shop are touched with emotion during the excursion, not to be outdone by the Walmart staff who also help out.

“They (the kids) don’t only buy for themselves,” he explains. “They oftentimes buy presents for their parents and things like that, because they know their parents aren’t going to get anything, either. It’s kind of neat to see the generosity that these kids have at a young age.”

Stoffel is recruiting police officers from as far away as Bluffton and Whitley County, which do not have Shop with a Cop programs. Last year, there were not enough officers to match to each child, and some officers went back for a second round to help another youngster with their shopping list. Walmart will offer refreshments for kids and parents alike while the shopping spree is in session.

The students in the criminal justice class are also eager to participate on the project, not only to get their community service requirement in, but also because Stoffel has taught them about “community policing” – in other words, being a law enforcement officer isn’t just about writing tickets and taking bad guys to jail but being involved and fostering positive relations in the community they serve. The students will be teamed up with the shoppers and the officers to see first-hand what it’s like.

“I think this is going to be a really good opportunity for all of us because we may not have as many misfortunes like other kids that have Shop with a Cop, and it’s just going to be a really good experience,” says Veronika Russell, a senior student. “It’s just nice to be able to give back.”

Senior Caleb Brown says he has never done anything like this before, but he wants to have a hand in bettering the community in which he lives.

“I think it’s going to make me feel really good, actually,” he says. “I like helping people out in general; this is just a step in the right direction.”
Owen Princell, another senior in the criminal justice class, says it’s significant that Shop with a Cop supports needs here at home.

“At my church we used to do the gift boxes where you would fill the boxes with certain items and then we’d ship those away. They’d take them and distribute them overseas, and that always made me feel really good,” he recalls. “But I think it’s going to be a different experience for me, just because it’s local and in the community, and knowing I can help people who are local and around me. I just think that’s going to be something cool that I can do to help others.”

Lindsey Hill says she has done something similar to Shop with a Cop when she was younger, and the impact of the event affected her greatly.

“It really gives you just a brighter look on what people can do, and that there is good in the community, and we can all come together to make someone’s day better, their holiday better or their moment better for someone that maybe doesn’t have so many great moments,” she says.

Another student, senior Logan Hippensteel, is issuing a challenge to help bring in donations for the program.

“Just kind of a reminder to everybody, like a calling to everybody in all of Huntington, to everyone that reads this paper,” he says. “Christmas is about giving and there’s always going to be somebody less fortunate than you. Just get involved in something like Shop with a Cop or there are so many different programs, especially around Christmastime. People need a lot of help … I would say just do your best to try and get involved.”

To donate to Shop with a Cop, bring donations to any Huntington County law enforcement agency station, mail them to Sheriff Terry Stoffel, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, 332 E. State St., Huntington, IN 46750 or call the police department and an officer will come by and pick it up. Make checks payable to Walmart. For more information, contact the Sheriff’s Department at 356-2520.