Shop With a Cop planned for Dec. 15

Huntington County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Weicht (left) helps London Haddock try on a pair of sneakers during the 2019 Shop With A Cop on Tuesday, Dec. 17. This year, Shop With A Cop will look a little different, but will still assist those in need. Shop With A Cop is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15, this year.
Huntington County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Weicht (left) helps London Haddock try on a pair of sneakers during the 2019 Shop With A Cop on Tuesday, Dec. 17. This year, Shop With A Cop will look a little different, but will still assist those in need. Shop With A Cop is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15, this year. TAB file photo.

Since 2000, former Huntington County Sherriff Terry Stoffel has spearheaded Huntington’s Shop With A Cop program during the holiday season. And although COVID-19 has caused a few changes to be made to the program, Stoffel and other Shop With A Cop participants are doing all they can to keep things as normal as possible.

Annually, money is raised within the community for Shop With A Cop so that 70 to 80 children and families who may need assistance during this time of year may do some Christmas shopping with a local police officer. After fund-raising efforts come to a close, families who have been contacted for the program meet at Huntington’s Wal-Mart shopping center and are paired with one of nearly 80 officers present for the event. Together, the families and officers walk through the store to shop for essentials such as clothing or school supplies for the children, as well as toys and other wish-list items. This year’s event is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15.

This year, participants will still show up to shop. The largest difference is that officers will not gather in large numbers this year. Instead, participants will receive a gift card from one of five or six officers present and the families will receive instructions for their shopping. After the shopping is completed, the participants will come back to the Lawn and Garden checkout section.

Officers will still be present at the store during the program. This decision has been made due to the chances of COVID-19 exposure within the police department.

“If someone were to have COVID-19 and come into contact with our officers while we were there, having a large number of them there could very well result in having to quarantine an entire department,” Stoffel explained. “We just have to take these extra precautions to keep our officers safe.”  

The program is one of Huntington’s best ways for relationships to be built between members of the community and members of law enforcement. Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton says that programs like these are all about “building trust” between the community and law enforcement officers.

“When you deal with the police, it shouldn’t just be the negative things that you see in the national media. It should be meaningful and trustworthy,” Newton says.

Newton can pinpoint specific moments within his career that has shown the impact that community policing programs like Shop With A Cop has made on participants.

“There was a young boy that was part of my group. We went through the store and bought the toys and the clothes . . . fast forward a little while later and we get a call about an individual causing some issues for some of our surveyors. We had to come out to the house and speak with the individual. Before we know it, this little boy comes running out of the house and hugs me around my leg and talks to us, telling us about how he knew us and how great we were.”

The man present had then asked Newton if he had been involved in the Shop With A Cop program, to which Newton answered yes.

“The man told us that ever since his son had been around us, he had done a total one-eighty,” Newton continued. “The man relaxed and let us and our surveyors do what they needed to do. He told us that he had no problem with us. It really just puts us in the right place at the right time.”

Local officers aren’t the only ones who normally participate in the Shop With A Cop event. For the last three years, since Stoffel transitioned to teaching Criminal Justice classes at Huntington North High School, part of his class curriculum includes community policing. During the holiday season, Stoffel’s students assist the program by going out into the community to raise funds for the event. Traditionally, students are also paired with a family to assist with shopping. Students will not be participating during the shopping portion event this year because of COVID-19 exposure concerns, but will still be participating in fund-raising efforts.

Fund-raising efforts are continuing for this year’s Shop With A Cop program. The HNHS Criminal Justice classes sent out letters to community partners in October, asking for assistance in raising funds. The letter stated:

“Due to this time of struggle with the global pandemic, we recognize the financial hardships that job loss has inflicted on our community. To help ease the burden, we are shooting for the stars in an attempt to contact more local businesses than ever. We hope to create a positive and long-lasting bond between the children of our community and local law enforcement. Shopping together goes a long way in obtaining this goal. Police officers and criminal justice students happily volunteer to meet, interact and spend time with the families that will benefit from this program.”

Those who would like to sponsor the Shop With A Cop program by donating any amount may do so by sending checks payable to Huntington Wal-Mart to the Criminal Justice/Learning Center at 2201 N. Jefferson St., Huntington, or by dropping checks off at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department at 332 E. State St., Huntington, or the Huntington City Police Department at 450 Cherry St., Huntington. Memo lines for all checks should read “Shop With A Cop”.

Grant Meitzler, an 18-year-old senior at HNHS, was able to participate in the fund-raising efforts and the shopping portion of the Shop With A Cop program during his junior year.

“It’s pretty eye-opening to see how many kids struggle and how many kids you may know that might need help,” Meitzler said. “It really brings a smile to the kids’ faces, too.”

Meitzler hopes to become a police officer someday, which is why he is taking Criminal Justice classes this year. He is a volunteer firefighter in Roanoke and will graduate from HNHS at the end of the fall semester.

This sentiment of helping families in the community is shared by many of the officers who participate in the Shop With A Cop program each year. Newton hopes that the negative effects that COVID-19 has had on the program will not continue in 2021.

“It does a lot for our officers,” Newton said. “It grounds us- it reminds us why we do this job. It’s not just about getting a paycheck or writing up a ticket, it’s about creating relationships and getting to know people. It’s honestly kind of depressing when we can’t do that.”

Newton has seen a difference in how generations of officers interact with the public, noting that younger generations of officers often crave the extra involvement.

“It really says a lot to me about the officers and it makes me happy,” Newton said. “That they want to be a part of it and want to build those relationships. The older generations care and did their part, but I have seen a big difference with these younger guys. They want the opportunities to be better officers and to be involved with these younger kids.” kkdk