Most want to buy presents for their parents or siblings.
Next, they want to shop for the police officer escorting them around the store who, until only a few hours earlier, was likely a complete stranger.
Rarely do they think about themselves first — if at all.
Again this year, police-sponsored programs will pair needy children with local officers and give the youngsters a chance to buy toys or boots or a special dress. Sometimes all the kid wants is a Christmas ham.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” said Northwood police Sgt. Doug Hubaker. “Some of these kids really don’t have a whole heck of a lot, and it puts a good feeling in your heart when you’re able to help somebody who maybe doesn’t have as much as others.”
Officers in Wood County are joining forces for their annual Cops and Kids program, taking 125 children shopping Dec. 7 at Meijer on U.S. 20/23 in Rossford.
On Dec. 23, 50 children will be paired with Toledo police officers for the fifth annual 12 Kids of Christmas event at the East Alexis Road Meijer.
“You know, it’s nice to not be the guy taking someone to jail sometimes, or to not be the guy who has to yell and tell you what to do,” said Toledo Officer Joe Okos, who spearheads the Toledo cause. “It’s nice to put a smile on a kid’s face and give them something they wouldn’t normally have.”
The Cops and Kids program works with school districts in Wood County to identify children who would benefit from the shopping trip. Each child is given $100 to spend, Sergeant Hubaker said.
Every year, officers end the event with stories to tell about the children they escorted and helped with addition and subtraction.
Sergeant Hubaker can’t shake the particular memory of a young boy who he helped pick out socks.
“I asked him what size socks he wears, and he said he didn’t know,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Take your shoe off and we’ll see.’ Well, he wasn’t wearing any socks.
“I said, ‘Dude, it’s December. Why aren’t you wearing socks?’ He said, ‘I don’t have any socks.’ Needless to say he went home with a couple dozen pairs of socks,” the sergeant said.
Toledo officers’ experiences are no different. Last year, one young boy dressed himself in a button-up shirt and tie because he thought it would be “disrespectful to go out with the officers and not be dressed up,” Officer Okos recalled.
The boy’s sister was also along for the trip, and was so worried she wasn’t dressed well enough she sought out a new outfit — a pretty dress, tights, and shoes — that her officer escort helped pay for with her own money.
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Two years ago, a young girl was on a mission to buy a ham for her family’s Christmas dinner — they wouldn’t have had one otherwise, Officer Okos said.
“That’s just a little heart-breaker right there,” Officer Okos said.
Pairing officers with children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds is about more than new toys and clothes, said Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Children Services.
Many of the children have had only negative interactions with police — they’ve been taken from their homes, perhaps, or seen parents handcuffed and taken to jail.
“It puts police in a whole different light,” Mr. Sparks said. “It helps police know there are kids that are in [social] services that are just kids, and need the love and care that all children need.”
Both programs are still in need of donations:
● Cops and Kids, send checks to the Northwood Police Department, 6000 Wales Rd., Northwood, 43619, addressed to Sgt. Doug Hubaker; for questions, call 419-691-5053.
● 12 Kids of Christmas, send checks to the Safety Building, 525 N. Erie St., Toledo, 43604, addressed to Officer Joe Okos, ID 2384.