By Leejay Lockhart, Fort Campbell Courier December 24, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Dec. 23, 2015) -- Usually 25 police vehicles speeding down the road with the sirens screeching and their lights strobing in the darkness means something terrible has happened.
Once a year though, those sirens aren't an alarm, instead they are a joyous noise as the Shop with a Cop Christmas charity program returns to help children have a Merry Christmas. So as the convoy of vehicles pulled into the Hopkinsville Wal-Mart's parking lot Thursday, a crowd of employees cheered their arrival.
Teachers help select deserving children who are in good academic standing from Fort Campbell schools as well as Christian and Trigg counties. Then the program pairs a member of law enforcement with a child. The police officer contacts the child's Family and makes arrangements to meet them and then take the child Christmas shopping. In addition to the Military Police Soldiers who have participated in the program for 15 years, agents with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command participated for the first time.
However, one thing that makes Shop with a Cop slightly different than many other charity programs is that the children buy presents for their Families instead of for themselves. After the officer arrives, the two, with a list in hand, head off to make some Christmas wishes come true.
Sergeant Brandon Lewis, a Military Police Soldier with the traffic section, 163rd Military Police Detachment, 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, volunteered for the program last year and was eager to be part of it again this year as well. "I did it last year and I brought it up this time that I wanted to go through and do it again this year," Lewis said. "It's almost overwhelming how many different agencies come together to be able to do this and I'm glad to be a part of that."
The child Lewis teamed up with was Jesse Finley, a fourth grader at Andre Lucas Elementary School who was buying presents for his mom, dad, brother and sister. Jesse said he was scared at first to get in the police car with Lewis because of the last time he had been in a police car.
"Because last time I was in a cop car it was an emergency," Jesse said.
Although when Lewis picked Jesse up, Jesse said the stun gun Lewis had on his belt made him feel safe. So Jesse knew this time was different. This time was "just for fun," he said.
Together the pair traveled to the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Hopkinsville to meet up with the others participating in the event, then as a group they went to Wal-Mart. On the way, Jesse sat in the front seat and be a cop for a moment as he controlled the lights and siren.
"The best part of this is running code all the way over here," Lewis said. "He was great. He had the handheld LIDAR and he was clocking cars in on their speed."
Jesse even spotted a speeder going 88 in a 70 mile-per-hour zone.
As cheering Wal-Mart associates greeted them, Lewis and Jesse began to search out everything on his shopping list. While it took them a while to find each item -- especially a present for Jesse's sister hidden away in the cosmetics isle -- they eventually found everything and checked out.
However, Lewis and Jesse were just two of the many children in the store that night. Connor Rose, a student at Jackson Elementary School was shopping with Staff Sgt. Robert Glynn, the traffic section noncommissioned officer in charge also with the 163rd MP Det. Connor said one of his favorite presents was a piece of jewelry he selected for his mother.
"It's a nice way to get in touch with the community and show them that we're not just there for enforcement purposes, we're there to help support them," Glynn said. "We bought for his whole Family. It's really great. It's great seeing him laugh, smile and just interact with the other kids."
After shopping the police officers took the children back to the lodge for pizza and desserts before wrapping all of the presents they had bought. Getting pizza excited both Jesse and Connor.
By the time they ate their fill and wrapped their presents, the children had one final treat. Santa Claus made an appearance at the lodge to give the young shoppers a present to make sure everyone in the Family received something.
Making sure everyone received something is part of why Shop with a Cop is so special said Henry Gould, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
"Christmas is all about giving and we try to install that in the children. When we take the child shopping, they think right away they are shopping for themselves and then they find out they are shopping for their brothers and sisters and mother and father or sometimes it may be grandpa and grandmother," Gould said. "[But] when the big man comes out and they find out there are presents for them it changes everything."
The community's generosity makes the event possible, Gould said. It takes 10 to 12 weeks of fundraising starting in October to pay for the program. While the program usually involves 27 to 30 children, because of the number of Family members included the program provides gifts for 125 to 150 people.
"This would not be possible if it weren't for the people in the community and their big hearts," Gould said. "This is a giving community."
It was a lesson Jesse has already taken to heart. He said his favorite holiday was Christmas and his favorite part of Christmas was "giving people gifts."
Besides just the joy of helping others have a great holiday Lewis, Gould and Glynn agreed Shop with a Cop helps law enforcement give back to the community and show a different side of policing.
"It's a great program," Glynn said. "Our unit basically specializes in policing alone, so it's nice to be able to get out and see the other side of it than the enforcement side."
"I think this is a good break for police officers too, because this is how we want to be." Gould added. "We want this great interaction with children and with the public."
And one of the benefits, Lewis said, is "giving back to the community, especially the community at Fort Campbell, that's the big thing. I mean we are residents of Tennessee and Kentucky down here, but the military installation is our No. 1 priority, so being able to serve our own residents and Soldiers is great."