Sheriff hoping community again steps up to give Christmas to less fortunate children

Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel holds a list of just a few of the names of children recommended for the 15th annual Shop with a Cop program by elementary schools and the Department of Family Services. Stoffel says 50 kids will participate this year, partnering with a law enforcement officer to go shopping for Christmas. He hopes community donations will help fund the program.
Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel holds a list of just a few of the names of children recommended for the 15th annual Shop with a Cop program by elementary schools and the Department of Family Services. Stoffel says 50 kids will participate this year, partnering with a law enforcement officer to go shopping for Christmas. He hopes community donations will help fund the program. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

If Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel gets his way, around 50 kids in the community will have a Christmas they might not otherwise get this year, and he hopes the community will step forward and help fulfill that goal.
It’s the 15th year of Shop with a Cop, in which law enforcement officers team up with Walmart to take children on a Christmas shopping spree. Stoffel’s projected budget is around $6,000.
“We’ll spend at least $100 each on them,” he says. “Half of it will be on something practical, like clothes, boots, a coat or something for school that they need. Then the other half will be for whatever they want.”

The event will take place Tuesday evening, Dec. 19, at the Huntington Walmart store. Stoffel says participating officers are from the Sheriff’s Department, Huntington Police Department and Indiana State Police, along with town marshals, state conservation officers and more, each matched up with a child to assist.
Punch and cookies will be on hand for parents who wait at the store while their children shop. Extra Walmart employees will be working and a designated lane will handle their purchases.

Stoffel received names of children who might benefit from Shop with a Cop from each of the elementary schools in the county, as well as the Indiana Department of Family Services.
Only six children participated in the first year of the program, which has grown bigger each succeeding year. But despite reports of upturns in the economy, Stoffel says there are still lots of families in the county who are struggling to make ends meet, let alone afford the extras that define Christmastime.
“You just hear some of the most sad stories that you can imagine,” Stoffel says.
“I had one in particular yesterday that really stands out. I called this lady and she wasn’t there. Fifteen minutes later I get a call back and she tells me that she’s the guardian of her sister’s 9-year-old son, and also there is a 4-year-old daughter.
 “I said, ‘That’s really great. I’m really glad that you’ve stepped up to do that.’”
The woman went on to tell Stoffel that her sister cannot take care of her children because of addiction problems, and the dads are not around, leaving her to raise her niece and nephew.
“I said, ‘Can I ask you a question? How old are you? You sound awfully young,’” Stoffel says. “She’s 19 years old, and she’s taking care of this 9-year-old and 4-year-old. I said, ‘Absolutely we’re going to help you out.’”

He has run across other issues like death and illness in the family, single moms trying to raise their children alone and more as he contacts the Shop with a Cop candidates to verify the need.
However, Stoffel  adds there are also lots of inspirational and heartwarming stories as well he’s come across since he got involved with Shop with a Cop. Oftentimes families have had what he calls some “rough interaction” with the police, putting them in an unfavorable light with the youngsters.
“This is a way to show the kids that we really are good guys and we’re just out doing our job like anybody else, and trying to make a difference and make sure kids are raised in the best atmosphere possible,” he says. “We try to bridge that gap.”

Oftentimes, kids will use their $100 budget at Walmart to purchase gifts for their mom or dad, rather than spend the entire amount on themselves.

“I have had kids put the oddest things in the cart and when you ask them why they say, ‘Well, if I don’t get Mom or I don’t get Dad something they won’t get anything either this year,’” Stoffel says. “A $5 candle is worth $1,000 for what that little child is thinking, because it’s truly coming from the heart.”

Walmart gives $2,500 to Shop with a Cop through its Community Giving Grant, according to Jim Clark, manager of the Huntington Walmart store.

He says it’s his favorite store event of the year.

“I smile through the whole thing … You almost have to see it – to see how the police officers and the children interact, and the expressions on their faces and how much care is given by the officers,” he explains. “Dozens of (Walmart employees) volunteer to be here at that time, just to watch the kids and the police officers.”

Stoffel hopes the community will add to Walmart’s grant by sending in cash donations.

To donate to Shop with a Cop, make checks payable to Walmart and drop them off at the Sheriff’s Department or mail them to Sheriff Terry Stoffel, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, 332 E. State St., Huntington, IN 46750.