For Indiana University Kokomo students Brian Hunt and Ana Helms, at least one day of holiday shopping each year is a blessing.
Hunt, who is not only an informatics student, but also a sergeant in the IU Police Department on campus, volunteers each year with the Kokomo Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) Shop with a Cop program, which provides clothes and toys to children from low income families. Helms helps her father, a White County Sheriff deputy, with the Shop with a Cop in her hometown of Monticello.
“Some of these kids tell us, ‘Mom already said we’re not getting anything for Christmas,’ or ‘Mom said there won’t be a Christmas,’” Hunt said. “You feel good at the end of the day when you see the smiles on their faces and know they’re not going to be cold, and have something they normally would not get. You realize what true need is out there, and it humbles you.”
In early December, Hunt and his wife, Launa, spent a morning shopping with four children from two families, helping them pick out winter coats, tennis shoes, warm winter clothes, and some fun gift items. More than 200 children shopped with Howard County law enforcement officers and other volunteers.
“Most of them don’t have coats, shoes, socks, underwear, the basics most people take for granted,” he said. “That’s their wish list, because they don’t have what they need. If there are younger kids, we always try to save some money so they can get a toy. For many of them, that will be the only toy they receive.”
He likes working with his wife to shop, and said girls especially appreciate having a female officer to help them pick clothes.
Hunt enjoys not only helping the kids have happier holidays, but giving them positive interaction with law enforcement officers.
“It gives them a chance to see us in a positive light, as people who are here to help them, not just out arresting people,” he said. “Some of them come from families that have had negative interactions with police. This is their chance to see the positive side of what we do.”
Helms and her father helped one of the 70 White County children who participated with Shop with a Cop in Monticello. Each child received a coat, hat, and gloves, and then had a budget to shop for clothes, and an additional money for toys and games.
“Some kids are afraid of police officers, and it’s awesome to have a chance for them to give back and show that police are kind people,” said Helms, who has participated for the last five years. “It’s a good thing to help people in your community.”
She especially enjoys seeing the children get the winter gear they need to stay warm, noting that she had to work to get their recipient to accept a coat this year, because he said his sweatshirt was enough.
Many years her stepmother, stepbrother, and stepsister also participate, making the event a family affair for them.
“It helps me appreciate coming from a solid family that is able to support me and provide for me,” Helms said. “It’s a good feeling to give back, even when your part is only a small one. Those kids really need it, and appreciate it.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana