By Brandi Makuski
Squad cars from three local law enforcement agencies whisked 16 kids away from their schools on Wednesday — and the kids couldn’t have been happier.
A team of officers from the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Stevens Point and Plover, picked up select students from their schools on Dec. 21 for the annual “Shop With a Cop” event.
The shopping trip was originally slated for Dec. 17, but was cancelled at the last minute due to heavy snowfall.
Plover Ofc. Seth Pionke, who helped coordinate the first local shopping event in 2008, said the program takes local schoolkids from less fortunate families and — using funds donated by the public throughout the year — helps them purchase Christmas presents for their family members.
“Typically, we do this on a Saturday and kind of make a day of it,” Pionke said while coordinating with volunteering officers in Walmart on Dec. 21. “But then with the weather and everything, we just took a few kids earlier this week, but most of them are here today. I’m just so glad I was able to get enough officers to reschedule.”
Each child is paired up with an officer — Pionke said the kids “love” getting to ride in a squad car — and this year had $150 each to purchase gifts for their family, along with one special gift for themselves. Students are referred to the police dept. by teachers and other staff members inside the schools, Pionke said, because they “tend to have a pretty good idea of which kids could use this the most.”
Plover PD took in $1600 from members of the public, donated specifically for Shop With a Cop, along with an $800 donation from Walmart. Several teenage members of the Plover Police Dept. Explorers Post also assisted with the shopping.
When the program first started in 2008, Pionke said officers had to answer a lot of questions from a suspicious public.
“The first year we did this, we had a lot of people asking what this was about,” he said. “There was a lot of, ‘Why are you shopping while you’re working?’, because we were obviously in uniform. But now it’s so popular, people see it and they know what it is, so they say ‘Thank you’ and how much they appreciate it.”
Following the shopping trip, the group headed for the Plover Municipal Building for gift-wrapping and a pizza dinner, provided by Pizza Hut on Post Road.
“They’re not just shopping for gift; they also get a chance to talk with the officer on a personal level, have that positive experience,” Pionke said. “These kids have to worry about other things going on in their lives — getting a gift for their mom or dad shouldn’t be one of them.”
For more information, or to donate, contact the Plover Police Department at (715) 345-5255. Checks can be sent to: Plover Police Dept., c/o Shop With a Cop, 2420 Post Rd., Plover, Wis., 54467.