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News Story
Updated: 12/26/2013 09:42:06AM

Shop with a Cop brings smiles

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Christmas came early for more than 50 local children as 20 officers and employees of the Lake Wales Police Department held their 5th annual Shop with a Cop event recently at Walmart in Lake Wales.


Joe VanBlarcom of the Lake Wales Police Department helps 11-year-old Lavoris Jones and 10-year-old Montavies Walker search through aisles of toys at the Lake Wales Police Department's 5th annual Shop with a Cop event at Walmart in Lake Wales.


Lake Wales Police Officer Lawrence McCalley and 7-year-old Logan Woody find a radio-controlled truck that will brighten Logan's Christmas.


Eight-year-old Abbygail Vitale asks Lake Wales Police Department Chief of Police Chris Velasquez a question about a doll she spotted on a display.


After finding some special gifts, 10-year-old Montavies Walker and 11-year-old Lavoris Jones accompany Joe VanBlarcom of the Lake Wales Police Department to the check-out line in Walmart.


Seven-year-old Anderson Verduga knew exactly what he wanted and shares his smile with Detective Ivelisse Rodriquez and Assistant Manager Jorge Sanchez while sitting on his new BMX bike.


Officer Jonathan Fletcher and his son Joshua (with hat) share in Yolanda Donaldson and Samuel Evrin's excitement at the Shop with a Cop event at Walmart in Lake Wales.


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It’s all about kids, police, those who care about kids, and Christmas.

Welcome to Shop with a Cop, now in its fifth year in Lake Wales, partnering with area sponsors to make Christmas happen for some of the area’s children.

According to Officer Lawrence McCalley, who headed up the event this year, Walmart, Woody’s, Norby’s, Publix and Joe Miranda partnered to give these children a blessing they won’t soon forget.

Walmart donated the bulk of the funds: $2,500, while Quality Vaults donated $300, Joseph Miranda $250, Anytime Fitness $112, Publix $100, Norby’s $25 gift certificate, Woody’s donated seven free dinner coupons.

Anytime Fitness sent a couple of volunteers to help with the event, in which Lake Wales Police were paired with the families so the children could shop for anything they wanted at Walmart, and each was given $60 to spend.

“Honestly, a lot of them, their parents don’t tell them the entire deal until they get there,” says McCalley.

Also, when it looked like there were more children left on the list who did not get to go to Walmart because of the funds, McCalley’s parents, Larry and Barbara McCalley of Orlando, purchased a lot of gifts for those children.

The officer says that though kids were told “buy what you want,” a lot were buying toys, but some actually bought clothes.

“The girl I shopped with actually bought two or three pairs of shoes,” he said.

“One kid said this is awesome,” he notes.

While another was confused.

“He honestly was confused. He didn’t know what to get,” McCalley said.

“So many kids were thankful. It is one of those times you get watery-eyed. You get to see the other side of the police officer, the emotional side, the caring side. A lot of us do get emotional. … I always get a little choked up,” he said.

“It makes you feel really good that you helped out with that,” he adds.

Kids open up to the police.

And the police open up to the kids, picking toys off the shelf like they were shopping with their own child.

“I think it brings the community closer together from the law enforcement side,” he said.

“There’s more to the place that you live than just the bubble you work in every day,” he said.

Shop with a Cop grew over its first three years. Last year, there were 71, and this year, 52 children.

“The more funding we get, the more kids we get. That is our goal,” he adds.

Lt. Dave Black said the kids bought board games too, “that involve the family.”

“What was really cool is a lot of them bought for family members or friends as well as themselves,” he said.

One child only spent $8 on himself; the rest he spent on his family.

“I had a 9-year-old and a 10-year-old. They would say, ‘I don’t need to get that, it’s way too expensive.’ It wasn’t greedy, ‘give me, give me.’ Everybody said ‘Thank you, God bless you, Merry Christmas.’”

The event is coordinated through the Police Officers Association, he said. They do hold fundraisers for events like these, but the area partnerships fuel the funds.

Off-duty cops joined civilian employees and VOICE volunteers in helping the children have a wonderful shopping trip.

“My favorite part was seeing the Christmas spirit of the kids, not wanting to buy for themselves but for others as well,” said Black.

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