A huge smile crossed her face Saturday morning as 3-year-old Ari lugged a large toy down an aisle and deposited into a shopping cart being manned by two Wildwood Police Officers.
Her 5-year-old sister, Delilah, followed suit with a toy of her own and before long, her 9-year-old brother Ethan did the same thing. After a round of giggles and price checks, the three children headed back into the aisles for their next selections as smiles spread across the faces of the two officers and the children’s mother.
Welcome to the Wildwood Police Department’s first “Shop With a Cop” event, a program Chief Randy Parmer brought with him when he joined the force this past March.
“It’s a unique experience and an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said of the program, which took place at Wal-Mart in The Villages on Wedgewood Lane. “Obviously, it’s all about the kids. It gives you a good feeling and it makes everybody happy.”
Mom Jessica Kniebes was doing her part just to keep up with Ari, Delilah and Ethan as they strategically maneuvered through the toy department.
“It’s been great,” said Kniebes, a server at Cody’s Original Roadhouse in Brownwood. “They are definitely having fun.”
Officer Rashid Bankasingh said he and his partner, Officer Andrew Wellman, recently met Kniebes and her family and felt it was important to get them involved with “Shop With a Cop.”
“They’re great kids,” he said. “Everything turned out well.”
Bankasingh chuckled as he talked about watching the three children select those all-important Christmas gifts.
“They knew exactly what they wanted,” he said. “That’s good – knowing what you want.”
Wellman said it was his first experience with being a part of the “Shop With the Cop” program and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the three happy kids.
“They’re very charismatic children, which is good,” he said. “They’re not shy at all.”
Both Bankasingh and Wellman, who recently helped out a Wildwood Elementary School student who was walking to school in shorts and a T-shirt on a cold morning, agreed that “Shop With a Cop” is important for the community.
“I think it means a lot and it gives kids hope,” Bankasingh said. “It lets kids know that when they see law enforcement, it’s a safe place to be. We’re here to help.”
Wellman said he thinks the children who took part in the program won’t soon forget it.
“I’d like to think that we helped them out and they’ll think of that in the future,” he said.
“For some it’s going to make Christmas and for some it’s just going to make it better,” he said. “We’re glad everyone’s here. We appreciate Wal-Mart helping us out and being a part of this and everybody that donated. It’s a tremendous thing.”
Kniebes, who also had her mother, Anita Boyer, and Ethan’s father, Josh Murdick, helping out, said she and her family are very thankful for the efforts of Bankasingh and Wellman to get them into the program, as well as the entire Wildwood Police Department for putting it on.
“It means everything and we really appreciate it,” she said.
As for the most important question – will Ari, Delilah and Ethan have to wait until Christmas morning to enjoy their loot – Kniebes offered the perfect “mom” answer.
“No, they get them today because they’ve already seen them,” she said with a smile. “I can’t keep them from them.”