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HNHS criminal justice students aid in 'Shop with Cop'

2022 marks 24 years Huntington County’s Shop with a Cop program has successfully promoted giving to children in need. This year’s special event has been set for Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Walmart retail store in Huntington. The programs leader, former Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel, and students from Huntington North High School’s criminal justice class have diligently worked with the process of contacting the business community and other organizations through letters asking for the much-needed assistance. Each year, law enforcement from every department in the area, as well as the HNHS students from this class, assist selected children to shop, using funds raised with donations, enabling the children to receive gifts specifically for that child. “Last year there were 80 police officers, teamed up with a student from the criminal justice class, to shop with more than 130 kids,” said Stoffel. “We want every officer that can help with this year’s event to attend. This year we’ll have about 140 children that will be shopping with officers and students.” The criminal justice class, comprised of juniors and seniors, prepared 330 letters this year to request funds for these needy children. All of these young individuals in the class strive to help others, and a few expressed their excitement in being involved. Senior Kilee Tracy said, “I am excited to do this. Not all kids get to experience something like this, but we (the class members) have the opportunity to help the kids.” She added that this is her first year to be involved in the program and went on to say, “It’s heartwarming, and I get to see the kids excited to shop.” Junior Nevaeh Tolin said “Helping with this program is a great way to give back. I have been blessed in my life, so I think it’s important to do my part, and not take the things I have for granted.” This program not only serves as an outreach to stave off the “child that goes without” situation, but seems to assist in the training of young minds, helping them to understand the importance of community assistance and the value it gives to many. The additional message it gives is the full meaning of servant in reference to a police officer’s daily involvement with and for the community. Proponents of the program say that while law enforcement officers enforce laws, the scope of their responsibility extends far beyond just hand-cuffing suspects. This added dynamic of the job was illustrated by Luke Teusch, who said “the reasons I do this is my dad is a trooper for the Indiana State Police, and I think giving back to the community is important. It gives kids what they need and want for Christmas. Also, it brings law enforcement together with the community, and shows that police give back to the community.” Hayden Beard agreed with Teusch saying, “the reason that we as a class do this is to show the community that police officers are not always being tough, and that they care about the community and want to help.” Beard went on to say “we all want to show that we want to help the less fortunate. This is extra special to me since my dad is a police officer, so I understand what all of this means. Its heartwarming to see the kids get what they need,” said Beard. For one student in the class, Junior Ruby Kohler, the program hit even closer to home. “I wanted to do this because I was one of the kids who needed some help,” she said. “I’m older and more fortunate now. Seeing these kids walk with students and police officers to get what they want is really special to me. Contributing to something like this for kid’s needs is really cool for me.” Stoffel said donations totaled well over $25,000 for this program and for the kids in 2021. The average donation to each child is about $150. Donations for 2022 are being accepted from the community and can be taken in person to the Huntington City Police Department at 450 Cherry Street or to the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department at 332 East State Street. This program, and its volunteers, have teamed with the Police Athletic League (PAL) to help with accounting needs. All checks that are donated should be made payable to PAL/Shop with a Cop. The program and volunteers say they  appreciate the support community partners have given to help in this endeavor. Stoffel recalled one particularly meaningful story from his time with the program. “We had taken this little girl shopping, and she had gotten the items she needed,” he said. “After getting her needs covered, she had a balance of $50 to spend on herself; anything she wanted,” He went on to explain, “She took us down the candle aisle, and she picked out a vanilla scented candle. This child of approximately 10 years, then took us to the make-up area and picked out mascara and blush.” He continued: “Her helpers finally said to her that they thought these items may not be appropriate for her age. She looked up at me with big beautiful eyes and said, ‘it’s not for me, but for my mom. She won’t get anything if I don’t get her something.’”