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Local cops offer a helping hand

Hammond Police Chief Rick Coltrain helps Nathan Luellen, North Hudson, sort through the jean selection during the "Shop with a Cop" event at the New Richmond Walmart Aug. 16.1 / 3
Somerset Police Officer Josh Hecht helps out Thomas Bruce, Somerset, during the "Shop with a Cop" event at the New Richmond Walmart Aug. 16. Sponsored by the Salvation Army, the event provided between $50 and $125 in clothing and footwear to disadvantaged children in preparation for the new school year.2 / 3
Star Prairie Police Chief Steve Lewis checks to see if there is enough room in a new shoe for Kate Goodman, New Richmond, during the "Shop with a Cop" event at the New Richmond Walmart Aug. 16.3 / 3

Police cruisers dominated the parking lot at the New Richmond Wal-Mart on Thursday, Aug. 16, but not because there was criminal activity happening at the store.

For about five hours that day, local law enforcement personnel were inside to help disadvantaged kids with their back-to-school shopping.

The annual "Shop with a Cop" program, sponsored by The Salvation Army, provides new school clothing for families in need in Polk and St. Croix counties.

About 42 youngsters took advantage of the program at the New Richmond Walmart last week, compared to 35 participants last year. A total of 14 area police officers help out during the day, along with volunteers and staff members with the Salvation Army. Officers and police chiefs from Somerset, Roberts, Hammond, Star Prairie, Hudson, North Hudson and Woodville were on hand to help out during the day.

"I think it's a great program," said Steve Lewis, Star Prairie police chief. "This way the kids don't get picked on at school if they don't have the latest fashions."

Hammond Police Chief Rick Coltrain agreed.

"It's fun," he said, as he helped sort through the jean selection in the boys section. "And it's nice that we take care of local kids with this."

Many times children relate police or other law enforcement with negative experiences and the hope is that the program would build positive relationships between the police officers and the children in the area, said Duana Bremer, area Salvation Army director.

"It's a chance to get comfortable with them," agreed Kate Goodman, New Richmond, who shopped with Lewis last week.

"Shop with a Cop" participants 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.

For some of the kids, it took only a few minutes to pick out their chosen clothes and shoes. Others took their time to select just the right items.

"It's a good time," said Nathan Luellen, North Hudson, who shopped with Coltrain. "It's fun having the experience of being with a cop for a while."

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

The project is funded through money from the Salvation Army's annual red-kettle campaign and through a grant from KARE 11.

The officers met the children at Walmart and individually assisted the children in shopping for the items they need for school and helped them check out. Salvation Army staff members were there to assist with any questions or to provide transportation.

"We feel this would be a very positive experience, not only for the kids that are involved, but also for the officers," Bremer said.