BRIDGETON — As they walked through the aisles at Walmart, the expressions of the children brightened as they filled shopping carts with dolls, trucks, games and clothes assisted by members of local law enforcement.
For the low-income children, the Shop With A Cop program was all about the shopping and taking home toys and clothes to add to their holiday joy. But Gateway Community Action Partnership’s Shop With A Cop program runs deeper than that. At a time when the divide between the police and the communities they serve seems wider than ever, everyone is hopeful that community programs like Shop With A Cop will help.
As New Jersey State Trooper Justin Kuter made his way around the store with some children and a parent, he asked about their families and their school while joking and laughing with them. He was definitely making the positive connection that is the aim of this program.
“I think this is a great idea,” Kuter said. “The children and the families get to see another side of us. Programs like this allow us to get out in the community and making sure the kids see us as positive leadership individuals and not as someone out to do something bad in their community. We’re out there to do good, and I think programs like these are helpful. Any time you can get out and do positive things in the community, it helps everybody.”
Gateway’s Shop With A Cop program is part of a Community Action Program initiative being performed at CAP agencies around the state. Gateway dedicated the week of Dec. 13 to provide this program in municipalities in Gateway’s three CAP counties: Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem. Gateway appreciates the strong response and cooperation of the police departments, Sheriff offices and the New Jersey State Police in the three counties.
Gateway is working with Walmart stores in Upper Deerfield Township, Pennsville, Vineland, Millville and Deptford. Gateway provided each child with $150 to Shop With A Cop as well as ShopRite gift card to help with holiday meals.
“I think this program is an awesome idea, and the kids are very excited for the opportunity,” said Atiyah, a parent of one of the children shopping at the Vineland Walmart.
Albert Kelly, Gateway’s President and CEO and the mayor of Bridgeton, is keenly aware of the disconnect that can exist between the police and some community members.
“I am very happy to see how well the families and the police are enjoying each other’s company while they shop,” said Kelly, who attended the event in Upper Deerfield. “We think this interaction between the police and the youth and their families will promote a long-lasting, trusting and positive relationship.”
Bridgeton Police Officer Brent Bodine shopped with families at Upper Deerfield.
“This does a lot of good,” Bodine said. “The kids will get to know you, and when they grow up they will remember you and something good like this. This means a lot.”
New Jersey State Trooper Alan Laws was pleased to play a part in a program that will provide children with toys and clothes that their families might otherwise not be able to afford.
“I think it’s a great program,” Laws said. “I come from a background where I saw some of my friends and family that were in need weren’t able to get the things that they wanted during the holiday season. So, to be in a position where I can help another family add a little bit more to Christmas, I think it’s a great program.”