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Cops 'excited' to shop with kids

More than 30 children are already signed up for the third annual Shop With a Cop event on Aug. 16, a dramatic increase from the first Shop With a Cop event, which served 20 kids.

"The first year we really had to even beg people to sign up," said Duana Bremer, administrative director for the Salvation Army's Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area and Grace Place director. Bremer said the program has grown by about 10 percent since last year.

Bremer said she'd like to be able to help more children, but lacks the means to do so.

"We'd love to do 50 kids in St. Croix County," said Bremer, "but we just don't have any more money."

Shop with a Cop is an annual event put on by the Salvation Army in St. Croix County. On Aug. 16, law enforcement officers from around St. Croix County will meet selected children from underprivileged families in St. Croix County at the New Richmond Wal-Mart to help them shop for school clothes. Bremer said one of the reasons she decided to start the event was because she felt families needed a little more help with back-to-school items, which can be expensive.

"No matter how poor a kid is, they still want to go to school the first day looking like everybody else," said Bremer.

Bremer said kids in preschool through first grade are allotted $50 to spend on school clothes, kids in grades 2 to 6 are allotted $100, and kids in grades 7 to 12 are given $125 to spend.

Bremer said many of the participating children have had negative experiences with police, for example, children may have seen their parents arrested. Bremer said she hopes this event will help kids form a better relationship with police.

"So they'll be able to look at law enforcement and realize that they're people that are there to help them, not hurt them," Bremer said.

She said kids aren't the only ones learning something new. Bremer said the officers are also able to look at the kids differently.

"Last year, an officer came up to me, and he had shopped with a fourth-grader, and he looked at me and he said 'That's the first time this kid had ever had new tennis shoes,'" Bremer said.

Bremer said the cops try hard to build relationships with the kids. Many of the officers will let the kids turn on the lights and sirens of their patrol cars. Some officers also bring stickers for the kids.

"The officers just have a fun time," Bremer said.

Star Prairie Police Chief Steve Lewis participated in Shop with a Cop last year and said he will participate again this year. He said he is looking forward to this year's event.

Lewis said his favorite part of the event is "the joy of the kids that probably can't afford stuff, and that they're getting nice stuff for school."

"It's nice to help out kids that are in the need," Lewis said.

She said the children participating in the program are selected in two ways. Some are nominated by law enforcement officers. Children that live in Grace Place or come from families that are on one of the Salvation Army's tenant-based rent assistance program are also included.

Bremer said she got the idea for the program from a smaller Salvation Army unit in northern Minnesota that serves one small town, and 10 children.

"I said, 'we have got to do this here,'" Bremer said. "'This would be a benefit for the community.'"

Bremer said the project is funded through money from the red-kettle campaign and through a grant from KARE 11. Bremer said this is the first year the Salvation Army has received money from KARE 11 to do this project.

"They like to help school programs," Bremer said. Bremer said she was very happy to receive the money from KARE 11 for the project. She said she would like to see the Shop with a Cop event grow in the future.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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