They brought the spirit of Santa Claus but wore different uniforms — Hawaii Police Department blue and state Sheriff’s Deputy brown – as they spread Christmas joy and cheer to dozens of keiki Saturday morning in Kailua-Kona.
The annual Shop With A Cop program at Kmart first treated 50 youngsters to breakfast and Santa photos before each of the children received a $35 gift card shopping spree — which the officers more often than not contributed their own hard-earned cash to supplement. The officers, nearly two dozen in all, then escorted and talked story with the excited keiki.
“Christmas is for the kids,” said HPD Kona Patrol Officer Dwayne Sluss, who’s been on the force just over a year but who has taken part in the event twice. “As adults, we get disenchanted, but it’s still fun for the kids, and it’s enjoyable to see their excitement.”
He further noted before taking off with his partner-in-shopping that it provides the kids with good memories of police officers.
“This is a good, positive contact with the younger kids,” he said after answering a barrage of questions from the curious youngsters. “And, they all have cool questions.”
Twelve-year-old Honalo resident Arrianna Eatmon could only describe shopping with the officers as “amazing.” Shopping alongside Community Policing Officer Paul Mangus, she found a pretty pair of shoes as well as a gift for her mother.
“They are very nice officers,” she said. “Thank you so much and I hope I see you again.
The boys and girls ranging in age from 4 to 12 were preselected by Catholic Charities Hawaii, said the organization’s Erin Basque. They reside in communities from North Kohala to Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and come from a variety of backgrounds including foster care, transitional housing and disadvantaged homes, she said.
“We want to build relationships with the police department and children who may have had prior experiences with them,” Basque said. “We want to show them that police officers are wonderful and help the families so that there isn’t that negative stigma.”
The program, now in its 15th year, strives to give needy children an opportunity to buy presents for friends, family and themselves, as well as build relationships with law enforcement personnel, said Kmart loss prevention agent Cressi Brown, who coordinates the effort.
Kmart Store Manager Robert O’Meara said the store plays a major role in making the event a reality for the kids. He said the community by shopping there helps to fund the gift cards. It’s a project the store does statewide and will continue to host and support in order to give back to the community it calls home.
“The smiling kids — that’s the nicest part about the day,” O’Meara said.
For Arrianna’s mother, Nicole Eatmon, the Christmas Shop With a Cop is important this year in the wake of her husband being laid off. The Honalo resident said she appreciates the work the store, organization and police do for the kids.
“It’s cool, and it will help,” she said as her children showed off the items they bought — including a secret present for mom. “Christmas is short this year, so this is nice.”
She also added: “It’s really a good chance to see cops for who they really are.”