Imperial Valley children had more on their minds than dreams of sugar plumb fairies on Dec. 15 when treated to a spending spree only Shop with a Cop could pull off.
It was the event’s 20th anniversary, noted Magda Franco, organizer with United Families Inc. in El Centro, a non-profit committed to providing child care services at local early education centers and preschools. The organization provided nearly $12,000 for the shopping spree.
“We hold the money for the kids (to spend),” she explained. “We have 104 children from across the county and each gets $112 to spend.”
Once again, Target in El Centro, served as the host retailer and Chris Montoyer, store asset protection manager, noted it is a great opportunity to get involved with community service and partner with law enforcement agencies and local military service personnel.
“I think it’s cool that more than one agency gets involved. It’s not just one person’s idea,” said Montoyer. “This is community coming together for the kids and it involves the whole Imperial Valley.”
Invited for a “ride-along” by Officer Javier Rojas of the California Rehabilitation Center in Calipatria this newspaper got to escort the shopping cart of Ethan S., a Seeley Elementary School third-grader enjoying the thrill of an expense account.
Rojas and his son, Manuel, an Imperial Valley College criminal justice major, pitched in to navigate Ethan through the sports/games/electronics aisles.
“I’m going to fill up my cart,” vowed Ethan, who selected a gift card for his parents and then a “pin art” game that can build a multitude of figures limited only by the imagination. But saving his favorite selection for last he chose navy and ebony T-shirts with the latest animated characters.
“It’s a great experience,” said the elder Rojas. “It’s been a part of us (with son Manuel) for six years and we always look forward to it.”
Waiting on the checkout stand Gunner Cannon, a second-grader at J.W. Oakley Elementary School in Brawley, could not wait to try out his maze. It is similar to the old school labyrinth board game that requires a player to maneuver a silver marble across a maze without dropping it in one of many drilled pockets before reaching the finish line.
“I already got it through,” exclaimed Gunner. “I like this and that big car (a remote-controlled Corvette).”
Jose Munoz, a Centinela State Prison officer escorting Hayden Gonzales said he has volunteered every year.
“I’ve seen children I accompanied years ago who have children of their own,” he recalled. “It’s great to just see the smiles on the children’s faces.”
On this day even the recipients were in a giving mood as many children selflessly select gifts for siblings or even staple items their parents may have difficulty providing.
Madison Barber, a fifth-grader at Washington Elementary School in El Centro, was excited about the glitter appliques with which she will embroider several outfits she bought for school, and also a candle wax mold for her sister, Kayla.
“And I got some new shoes,” Madison said. “We sure got a lot of things. We’re going to need a really big bag for all this stuff.”
Waiting on the gift wrap line Mary Williams, a Seeley Elementary School eighth-grader, checked the speakers for her smart phone. Her step brother, Shane Turner, got an XBOX Forza Horizon 4 featuring 10 classic cars from the James Bond films.
“I bought this for Mary, a Starbucks ornament and a gaming head set to plug into the remote,” he explained as he pulled his treasures from the cart. His sister, Shaina, shyly showed off her favorite gift, a jumbo size of Candy Carnival lollipop assortment.
Escorting the children were Navy Master-At-Arms Petty Officer Second Class Megan Ranostay and Petty Officer First Class Richelle Hill.
“I think this is super fun and very uplifting,” Ranostay said. “It’s pretty rewarding.”
Added Hill, “It gives us a chance to get involved with young people. A lot of times we get stuck pushing boxes. But I wish we could do this more than once a year.”