MUSCATINE — The holiday spirit jingled its way into Walmart in Muscatine Wednesday morning with the second annual Shop with a Cop event hosted by the West Liberty Police Department.
"I could hardly sleep last night," said Police Chief Kary Kinmonth. "We're excited to be here. The kids are so excited to be here. It's just a really great day for us."
Police, decked out in holiday apparel, accompanied 20 area children and about 30 volunteers as each child shopped for gifts for themselves and their families. Through fundraising and other donations, the department was able to give each child $260 to spend at the store.
Walmart also offered 10 percent off of the total purchases and donated $2,500 for shopping.
Chief Kary Kinmonth said last year was the department’s first year hosting the event. The department raised $2,500 from businesses and private donors and were able to invite 10 children to shop.
This year, the department set a goal of raising $4,000 and exceeded it by raising close to $7,000, he said.
Checks were coming in the mail and larger donations were made by Walmart and West Liberty Rotary. Kinmonth said the department was able to raise more than double the money from last year "because people saw what we did last year."
In addition to shopping for gifts, children were also given other gifts that included $25 gift cards to Hy-Vee for groceries, a voucher for a pizza from Casey’s General Store and a free turkey. The additional gifts totaled about $325 per child.
Children were selected to participate in first-through-eighth grades from West Liberty Elementary and Middle schools based on need and good behavior.
"I think it's so wonderful to give kids a chance to shop for their families when they may not get to," said store manager Terri Benner. "It's empowering to give kids that choice."
Officers and volunteers also encouraged children to buy things they need, Kinmonth said, such as winter coats, hats, gloves, snow pants and new shoes.
"This is the happiest day of the year," said Officer Kim Halpain. "Because kids are able to see (us) outside of our normal scope of our duties and see what we really do, which is help people."
Alexia Alanis-Gallegos, 11, said, "I actually got surprised. I never knew I was going to be here." Alanis-Gallegos shopped for herself, her mother, father, stepfather and two sisters, ages 3 and 4 years old. She said she was "happy" and "excited" to be able to buy her family Christmas presents.
West Liberty middle school student Pedro Machado, 14, felt good about the shopping experience and "helping his family get Christmas presents." He did his shopping for his family first, including his mother and father and three sisters ages 19, 17 and 12.
"My mom didn't go Black Friday shopping," he said, "so, this is good."
Volunteers accompanied each student to help calculate the cost of gifts. West Liberty Elementary School Principal Jeni Laughlin helped Machado.
"It's awesome our community supported this event," she said.
She said she was appreciative of the police officers and organizations that worked together to make the event happen.
"I'm just happy to be apart of it," she said, noting the donations from Walmart were going to a great cause, "kids and families."
Officer Grant Stender has been with the department for nine years, and said the department fought for years to get the program running. With Chief Kinmonth on board nearly two years ago, he said the program has been a success.
"It's a blast to see the smiles on the kids' faces," he said.
Stender walked through the aisles with Brody Thammavong, 8, who couldn't decide what he wanted most. When he picked up a Nerf gun, Stender asked, "You got a permit for that?" Thammavong and other volunteers laughed. To have moments like this throughout the day is also a goal of the officers.
"It's great to see interactions between officers and kids," Kinmonth said.
Often, the community may see officers as "robots," he said, and this day is a way for officers to start a positive relationship with area children and their families, and show their "human side."
Volunteer Tammy Smith said it was "privilege" to be a part of the event.
"Our West Liberty Police Department is always doing stuff for the community, especially the kids," she said.
After shopping, everyone went out to Pizza Ranch for lunch to round out an enjoyable day.
"We live in a very generous community," Officer Halpain said. "This is a great community."