By Zach Sparks
Kids from Pasadena and nearby areas have never had a better reason to wake up early.
Between 8:00am and 8:30am on December 1, police cruisers pulled into their driveways and along their streets. But instead of delivering bad news, the police had a gift: a $100 gift card to Walmart and an invitation to a shopping spree.
This was the 15th year of Shop With A Cop, an event sponsored by the Fort Smallwood Optimist Club. Each year, the club’s volunteers contact guidance counselors from all Pasadena elementary schools, Severna Park Middle School, Brooklyn Park Elementary and Marley Glen School.
This year, the Fort Smallwood Optimist Club helped 56 kids who were paired with 54 officers from the Anne Arundel County Police Department, Maryland Transportation Authority and Maryland State Police.
“We think it’s a very important project,” said Pam Bowman, who chairs the event for the Fort Smallwood Optimist Club. “It gives the kids a positive experience with the police.”
The event commenced with photos of Santa. Then the kids were armed with shopping carts and a $100 limit.
This was the eighth Shop With A Cop for Corporal Glenn Whisman.
“I’m a person from humble beginnings myself and I have an adopted child who comes from humble beginnings,” Whisman said. “It’s a warming sensation to help children who are less fortunate.”
Sergeant Erin Brandt had always wanted to participate but couldn’t because she drove an unmarked vehicle and part of the experience for kids is playing with police cars and their sirens. For her Shop With A Cop on December 1, Brandt was paired with a second-grade boy who lives with his dad and grandmother.
“For his dad, he got a hammer,” Brandt said. “He got a sparkly necklace for his grandma he lives with, and he got a basketball and pump for himself.”
Despite having a rare opportunity to spend money freely on themselves, most kids were selfless with the funds. “Most of them are very fortunate [for this opportunity] and they want to share that with everyone in their household too,” Whisman said.
When kids exceed the $100 limit each year, officers often take money from their own pockets to help.
“We did have a child who wanted to spend the money on groceries,” said Bowman, indicating that it happened four years ago. “The officer had the child spend the money on gifts and then the officer spent their own money to buy the child groceries. When the kids want to spend their money on food, that’s heartbreaking.”
Kids did enjoy food at Two Rivers Steak & Fish House after the shopping spree. They ate while volunteers from the Optimist Club and Annapolis Amblers Walking Club hid presents inside colorful wrapping paper and bows.
Not only does Shop With A Cop provide Christmas for Anne Arundel County families but it’s also rewarding for the officers and it gives youth positive role models.
“Normally I only get to interact with people on their worst day,” Brandt said. “Today we could focus on having fun and interacting with kids.
“If he ever needs the police,” she added, referring to her new second-grade friend, “he won’t be afraid to call us.”