CATHEDRAL CITY – Mere minutes after the sun rose Saturday a motorcade of at least a dozen Cathedral City Police cruisers – with red lights flashing and sirens blaring – pulled into the Target parking lot with Santa Claus in tow, shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho.”
The grand entrance was the precursor to the long-awaited, annual event, “Shop with a Cop.”
Nearly three dozen children were selected this year to participate in the event, which has taken place in Cathedral City for nearly two decades. It is designed for children in the community who might not have the best of holidays for various reasons.
The children and their parents or guardians were treated to breakfast from McDonald’s and doughnuts before children embarked on a shopping spree with a cop. Each child also received a swag bag from Target.
With financial donations from local businesses, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians – and cash gifts from police officers — the Police Department buys Target gift cards to distribute to the identified children. If the children’s purchases should happen to exceed the amount on the card, officers will pick up the difference, Sgt. Jon Enos said.
The funds vary from year to year and often times, as with this year, money rolls in at the last minute.
“We don’t tell the amount each child gets as it may change year to year,” Enos said. “As has happened in the past, as word has spread from participants to their friends and family, we get people coming into the station wanting to sign themselves up, and that is not how the program works. We keep the information close in order for it not to spread.”
The pint-sized shoppers, flanked by a cop and cart, swarmed the store scampering up and down the aisles looking for that perfect purchase.
“Most children are identified through our schools in Cathedral City,” Enos told Uken Report. “The staff at the schools often knows about the children and their families. So, they are a great resource. The other children are selected from just us conducting business and coming across the families. Could be a call for service or they’re a victim of a crime. So officers often select kids they come across.”
Cops, and even members of their families, volunteered their time to shop with the children, Enos said.
“This is one of the biggest events the department will old each year,” Enos said. “This program is a way for us to not only give back to our community, but also to show the human aspect of law enforcement. Officers are there for these children and it helps to foster a good relationship with children from our community. It also allows us to provide for children a Christmas experience they may not have been able to have.”
The department did not publicize the event or seek coverage. The men and women in blue did it because it’s the right thing to do.
As eager Saturday shoppers drove into the Target parking lot to see a line of police cars and officers nearly blocking the doors, unsuspecting shoppers had no idea what was happening.
“I just came for groceries,” one customer said, shocked at all the police activity.
Another unsuspecting woman almost tippy-toed through the entrance door and, with a hesitant look on her face, inquired of the first cop she saw, “Is it OK to come in?”
He assured her it was.
“This is probably the safest place in the community right now,” he said.