PAOLA — Ten students were matched with members of the Paola Police Department for a Christmas shopping spree through a grant from Walmart.

The second annual Shop with a Cop program offered 10 second- through fifth-grade students from the Paola school district the chance to go shopping for loved ones for Christmas on Friday, Dec. 18. Through a Walmart grant for $1,000, each student had $100 to spend on gifts for their family.

Each student, list in hand, was paired with at least one member of the Paola Police Department as they went from aisle to aisle looking for that perfect present for their sibling, their mom, their dad and even their grandparents.

There was more than a little bit of Christmas magic in the air.

“Seeing their faces light up was my favorite part,” Paola Police Officer Yessenia Rizo said. “You could see them smiling through the masks. It was great.”

Not only was it an opportunity for the children to shop for Christmas presents, but also a way to see the police offers who protect and serve them as one of their friends in the community.

“They get to see a little bit more of the goofy side of us,” she said. “We get to level with them one-on-one and help them shop for their loved ones.”

Walmart was proud to help sponsor the event this year, assistant manager Karen Blanck said. The program was started by the Paola Police Department in 2019, and they contacted Walmart about joining the effort this year.

The whole experience was a moving one, not only for the children, but for everyone in the store, Blanck said.

“It is very exciting to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they go from aisle to aisle looking for that special gift from them to their sibling or parent,” Blanck said. “Most children don’t get the opportunity to buy a gift themselves for a family member. This will be something personal from them to their loved one.

“The children are obviously very comfortable shopping (with the officers),” Blanck said “You can see the respect and admiration in their eyes as they interact with the officers. The customers and associates love the excitement that comes from the children as they are shopping and then when they go up to the registers to pay for their special chosen gifts.”

Officer Rizo said the schools were great to work with.

“We were able to get lists from the kids so the officers knew what they were looking for when we got out there,” she said. “Three kids had two officers and the rest got one,” she said. “We had a few extra officers. We had some on duty still, so if they got called, we had an officer with them.”

Blanck has volunteered with the Cops for Tots program for many years.

“This is a whole different view, with Cops for Tots we work hard all year long on planning and collecting money to buy the gifts for the kids,” she said. “But with working in retail I’ve never been able to help deliver the gifts to see the kids’ eyes light up as Santa delivers the gifts.

“With the Shop with a Cop, it’s all about the view through a child’s eyes,” Blanck said. “The first-time shopping without a parent or relative, shopping with a Cop, who is not only there to guide them through the store to the items they get to choose, but to feel safe and protected by the officers. The children will remember this experience forever, they will know that it is good and to be around an officer and not like what some portray on TV to be unsafe and violent.”

Being part of the Shop with a Cop program was a great way for Walmart to say thank you to our community and the police who protect us, Blanck said.

“We at Walmart always support our officers, just as they are here to support us throughout the year,” she said. “Paola has some of the best officers who are active in helping our children with this program and other programs throughout the year. “

Students and the officers went to the police department following their shopping adventure to watch The Grinch while volunteers, police officers and even some of the children helped wrap the presents.

“We have more volunteers in route to help with wrapping the presents so they will be ready for Christmas,” Rizo said. “We keep it on the down low with the planning part of it. The most rewarding part of it is seeing the kids’ faces.”

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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