A force of police officers from the Leesburg Police Department escorted 12 high-profile individuals into the SuperTarget in Leesburg Dec. 7 with one mission in mind: to do some Christmas shopping.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Town of Leesburg and Leesburg Police Department partnered to provide needy children a Christmas they weren’t expecting.
Holidays with the Cops allows Leesburg’s neediest children to enjoy a happy Christmas. Each police officer is given $200 and paired with a child to spend the money on gifts the children.
The children are participants in Leesburg’s Parks and Recreation’s Recreation Outreach to Community Kids program.
“These children are super excited as well as their parents are so grateful,” Betsy Payne, community outreach coordinator for the ROCK program said. “We typically keep it as a surprise for both the kids and their parents until a day or two before the event.”
This year’s event kicked off with dinner for the children and their escorts at the Leesburg Police Headquarters from Palio’s Ristorante Italiano and La Villa Roma.
The kids were smiling from ear-to-ear as they ate dinner. Their smiles brighten more before getting gift bags containing small toys from Best Buy and essential clothing from Target like socks and undergarments.
Target also donated three Christmas trees to some of the kids’ families.
After receiving gifts, the kids partnered up with their officers, then shuttled to Target.
Some of the children chose to ride in their partner’s police cruisers, an enjoyable ride that many don’t experience voluntarily.
Once there, the children were let loose to buy whatever they wanted. One young boy had been talking about getting a bike since he was told he would be a part of the event, so naturally, and with a big smile, he strolled to the bicycle aisle and picked out his favorite style.
Another boy hitched a ride on the cart with his officer pushing as they entered the shoe aisle to get a new pair of shoes.
Several kids bought small toys for their younger siblings. One girl invested all of her allotted money into a computer tablet.
Other children looked at iPods, board games, gloves, socks and other warm clothing.
To cap off the night, the kids did arts and crafts with volunteers from the Leesburg Police Citizen Support Team, the Police Explorers, members of the officer’s families and others.
The National Guard escorted the wrapped gifts to each child’s home following the event.
Holiday with the Cops occurs thanks to both monetary and gift donations from local individuals and businesses.
According to Leesburg Master Police Officer Chris Tidmore, the yearly program started about five years ago.
“About five years ago, the department by itself took out one family and had about $200 to spend on them. After that, our local [Fraternal Order of Police] Lodge had run the event for two years and they folded last year, so the department took the program over and we adopted it as our own,” Tidmore said. “Last year, we were going to take five kids and we raised enough money in a month and a half to take 10 kids.”
Tidmore noted the department had set a goal for getting 12 children to participate this year and the outpouring of support for the program from the local community has been astronomical.
“We raised a lot of money. Enough that we have funding for next year and then some, so the public has been great,” Tidmore said. “Most of that support was through word of mouth as well.”
Tidmore also noted the event has a special meaning for the officers involved.
“The officers enjoy it. The ones that are here, want to be here and they enjoy giving back to the community,” Tidmore said. “We are volunteering our time because we want to feel good making these children feel good.”
ROCK is a program in Leesburg that was started seven years ago.
In April 2011, the Leesburg Town Council contemplated cutting the program back to only operating during the summer months due to budget constraints, but ultimately the program was kept intact.
“We take these children on field trips around town so they know different places they can go, as well as prevention services with the police department,” Payne said. “We are a recreation-based program that is entirely free for its participants and we have approximately 100 to 120 kids enrolled.”
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