By John Maxwell
On December 7, PLEA Charities hosted the 13th annual Shop With a Cop along with the Arizona Probation Officers Association (AZPOA) at Kohl’s in north Phoenix. This event was our most successful to date, thanks to a grant from the West Valley Mavericks Foundation and an extremely generous donation from QuikTrip. With these monetary donations, we were able to support a record 195 children ranging from 7 to 12 years old, giving them an experience that they will never forget.
Officers who participated in this event were each assigned a child, whom they picked up and transported to Kohl’s in a fully marked police vehicle. Officers, children and numerous volunteers checked in at registration and immediately went to a warm, heated tent for breakfast sandwiches donated by Chick-fil-A, doughnuts, water, hot chocolate and coffee donated by Graveyard Shift Coffee. The officers and children then completed small Christmas-themed crafts that they could take home to their families.
There were many static displays on site for the children to see, including the Special Assignments Unit armed vehicle, four unmarked and marked police vehicles, the Phoenix Police ice cream van, two semi-tractors from Duncan and Sons Lines trucking, a 30-foot-tall Chick-fil-A cow and a full-sized Chick-fil-A hot air balloon that lifted off from the parking lot just before Blue Santa’s arrival.
Everyone then lined up in front of the Kohl’s store, anxiously waiting for the arrival of Blue Santa, who was riding to the store in the Phoenix Police Department helicopter. A Phoenix Police K-9 demonstration was conducted by two of our handlers, who showcased the dog’s ability to perform an apprehension of a suspect. The helicopter gradually came into view and circled the parking lot, playing sleigh bells through the PA system, before eventually touching down. Blue Santa and an elf emerged from the helicopter, waving and saying, “Merry Christmas, everyone.” Blue Santa greeted the children and quickly went inside the store to take his seat for pictures and to listen to what the children wanted for Christmas.
The Phoenix Police helicopter powered down and remained in the parking lot, allowing us to take a large group photo with it directly in front of the Kohl’s store. Afterward, everyone made their way into the store to start shopping. Kohl’s had 20 volunteers who donated their time to assist with this event and help the children and officers with the shopping experience.
Each child was provided with a $175 gift card to spend in store, and in some cases, our officers used their own money to cover overages at the register. While everyone was inside the store shopping, Blue Santa sat in his chair, and a professional photographer took pictures of him and the children to commemorate the event. Those photos were given to the children’s families.
On the side of the store, there were two large tents adorned with colored Christmas lights, each with tables and chairs to signify the gift-wrapping station. All the volunteers assisted the children with wrapping their gifts. Blue Santa even peeked out the side door and said, “It looks like Santa’s workshop out there.”
The event concluded, and Blue Santa left the store because he is very busy this time of year. The children were given rides back home by their officers, who loaded gifts in the back of their vehicles.
This is the largest Shop With a Cop event that PLEA Charities has ever hosted, and it stands as the single largest Shop With a Cop event in the state of Arizona!
I want to thank all of the Phoenix police officers and probation officers who make this event possible each year. This event embodies the true meaning of the Christmas spirit, and the relationships made with the children will never be forgotten. I also extend my sincere gratitude to the sponsors and donors who believe in the mission of PLEA Charities and support law enforcement.
Last but not least, a big thank-you to Officer Jessica Tatum, whose assistance and meticulous planning were instrumental in putting all of this together. We could not have made this happen without you.