By WARREN DILLAWAY - firstname.lastname@example.org
Needy children were the beneficiaries of the efforts of several law enforcement agencies that sponsored two Shop with a Cop programs on Saturday in Conneaut and Ashtabula Township.
Social service agencies and area law enforcement agencies said the need has grown again this year with the economy still stagnating.
“This year we have 83 children. It is the most we have ever had,” said Sgt. Steve Gerics, president of the Conneaut Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 51.
Gerics said Conneaut police officers have conducted the program for decades. “We just like giving back to the community we serve,” he said.
A summer solicitation drive creates much of the financial base for the program, Gerics said. He said many area individuals and businesses step up and donate to the cause.
Police met the children and their families at the Conneaut Kmart early Saturday morning and let them loose to shop. Some police even helped the children find that special gift.
Gerics said most of the families live in Conneaut, but a few are from Kingsville Township and Ashtabula.
“Even with the hard economic times we’ve had very generous donations,” he said.
Brenda Hudson said the program was very important to her grandchildren. “This is our first time. It means a lot. If it wasn’t for this program they (the kids) wouldn’t have had much of a Christmas.”
“It means the world to us,” said Kim Campbell after thanking police officers for their help in providing gifts for her two daughters.
The FOP Lodge representing the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department was busy helping children at the Super Kmart in Ashtabula Township on Saturday morning.
“We’ve got 36 kids. The most ever,” said lodge secretary-treasurer Julios Petro.
He said an All-terrain vehicle club, Ohio Cops for Kids Inc. (OCKI), the U.S. Coast Guard-Ashtabula Station and many individuals donated to the cause in addition to lodge fundraising efforts.
The children helped in Ashtabula Township were all connected to Ashtabula County Children Services (ACCS), Petro said. Each child had a designated shopping helper.
Representatives of the OCKI, deputies, auxiliary and other volunteers helped make the experience special.
Kathryn Whittington, the community service coordinator for ACCS, said the agency is responsible for more than 200 children including 161 that are in the custody of the agency.
In addition to the toys she believes there are equally important benefits to the program. “It helps the kids bond with the police officers,” she said of the relationships that develops through the experience.