Emerson Police Department's third annual Shop With A Cop program began over a Southern breakfast before the 88 children and their families boarded two motorcoaches bound for Kohl's in Cartersville. Each child was given $150 to spend at the retailer, with $100 to be spent on clothing and shoes and the remaining $50 at the child's discretion.
EPD Chief Stan Bradley said the program raised more than $13,000 this year, which was up about $1,000 from 2010.
"I think we had about 42 donors this year. We had donations anywhere from $10 all the way up to $2,000 and all throughout the spectrum there," he said. "... The great thing about this is every single penny that's raised goes toward the kids. Everything we do is people donating their time, so we don't have an overhead.
"We had just a great reaction from the community as far as the donation side of it ... because they understand the needs that are out there for these kids. That's what it is about -- the kids."
Selected through the schools, the children received a police escort to Kohl's with 35 officers from various agencies aiding in the shopping experience.
"My mother was a kindergarten teacher for 29 years and she could always tells you the kids in the class that ... needed the help. It could be because the family is struggling due to the economy, the parents may have lost their job due to the economy that we are in right now or, for whatever reason, the child may need help," Bradley said. "The recruitment is done through the main office in the school and through the teachers that are in the classrooms. They coordinate that for us and do a great job of that over at Emerson Elementary and South Central Middle schools."
Among those taking part Saturday was 7-year-old Aaron Deaton, escorted by Adairsville Police Department's Mike Fitz, who was searching for an outfit based on his favorite cartoon.
Deaton's mother, Stephanie Whitener, said the outpouring from the community was remarkable.
"It was just amazing everyone that came together, you know. Different officers from different cities that came to help out, I just thought it was a really great thing," she said. "This is the first year that we've actually been a part of it. ... It's overwhelming. It's kind of hard to hold the tears back really."
Echoing those sentiments was Kenneth Roper, who was present with his children.
"Being that this is my first year, this is without a doubt the most awesome project," he said, adding that he would not have been able to afford Christmas on his own. "It's a blessing. I'm humbled."
Seeing the difference Shop With A Cop has is the most rewarding aspect of leading the program for Bradley.
"I can go anywhere in our community and, throughout the year, the parents and children themselves will come up to me and hug me and thank me and say, 'Do you remember me from Shop With A Cop?' and 'Thank you for helping my child,' those type of things," he said. "They'll tell me that, while nobody wants to say they have to ask for help, they understand that, in the economic times we are in right now, sometimes it's OK that that help is out there."
Bradley said the idea stemmed from interacting with Cobb County's Shop With A Hero program while in Emerson.
"When it came time that I was looking for something to put together for the Emerson community -- and not just the Emerson community but the south Bartow community that we serve with the Emerson Police Department -- I really thought that that was such a good project. So, what I started doing was, I looked throughout the state at other police departments that were running shop-with-a-cop programs and I called several of them and talked to the person that was coordinating the project. We found out what the pros and cons with each one of their projects was, and I took the best ideas from each project that they were running and used that to form our project that we have here."
Police involvement touches those in uniform as well.
"I think it's just interesting," said Bartow County Sheriff's Office Jail Deputy Clay Hayes. "This is my first year doing it, and it's just a privilege to help people, just to give them an idea that cops are not such bad people, that we're really out there to help them. I enjoy it. It's touching."
Anyone interested in donating to Emerson's 2012 Shop With A Cop program may contact Emerson Police Department at 770-386-6696.