COLUMBIA — Demonte Gaines, a fourth-grade student at Field Elementary School, browsed through a rack of pajamas at Target on Saturday with the help of Columbia police Officer Melvin Buckner.
Officers from the Police Department took students from the elementary school Christmas shopping for the first-ever “Shop With a Cop” program. Uniformed police officers drove children to Target in patrol cars, and the children were given a $100 gift card to spend.
The event was planned by police, MU graduate students and Field Elementary School to promote a positive relationship between officers and community children.
“It’s important because of all the negative publicity cops receive by the very nature of the job we do,” said Sgt. Eric White, who runs the department’s Community Youth Services program.
“We just got real lucky in the fact that there are so many eager students at MU who wanted to help.”
Bake sales, an auction of donations from local businesses and a tailgate raised funds to make the event possible, said MU graduate student Patricia Johnson.
Graduate student Zach Walker was the man behind the idea. In his hometown of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Walker observed a similar program and thought the idea would transfer well to Columbia.
“We looked for a school in which the students would really stand to benefit,” he said. “Most of these kids don’t have a chance to do something like this.”
Children selected to participate met the 11 participating officers at 8:45 a.m. Saturday at the school to catch their rides to Target.
Other children were dropped off by their parents when the snow made it difficult for then to reach the school. Only one of 11 selected children couldn’t participate because of the weather.
Demonte’s mother dropped him off, Buckner greeted him and they were off.
While some kids knew exactly what they wanted, Demonte just wanted to browse.
The first thing that caught his eye was a remote control car. Although it used almost half of his $100 budget, his mind was set.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Buckner asked. “Do you think they might like something?”
Demonte, who has two younger brothers, decided to buy each one a World Wrestling Federation championship belt.
A curious couple watched as Demonte and Buckner loaded toys into a cart. “You’re doing a good thing, sir,” one man said.
Demonte then headed over to the clothing section to hunt for pajamas.
After browsing for about 10 minutes, he picked out a dark green robe.
Although he spent almost half his budget on the remote control car, Demonte also took home the robe, the two WWF belts, a coloring poster and markers, the board game Sorry and a box of candy canes to put on his family’s Christmas tree.
The total came to $99.86, just 14 cents under budget.
“You can’t get much closer than that,” Buckner said.
As they waited to check out, the officer told the boy he had forgotten just one thing.
“What?” Demonte asked.
“You forgot to buy something for me,” Buckner joked.
The pair then met up with the rest of the group to show off their purchases.
One little boy, whose winter coat no longer zipped, had bought himself a brand new camouflage coat.
Finally, the children piled into the police cars and headed back to Field Elementary School where, after a siren-and-lights farewell, they were picked up by their parents.
“I think it was a big hit,” White said. “Besides the weather, I don’t think it could have been any better.”
That is exactly the reaction Walker was hoping for.
“This is really what Christmas is supposed to be about,” he said. “It leaves you with one of those warm, tingly, holiday feelings.”