Since its inception, the Rome Police Department’s annual Shop with a Cop program has brought joy to hundreds of Rome youngsters in need. While these children received presents and other tangible trappings of the season that many may take for granted, they received even more than video games, LEGO sets, Barbie dolls or action figures — they each were afforded an opportunity to make a connection with a caring role model.
For many youths, interaction with a police officer is seldom considered a positive situation, but the Shop with a Cop program flips that premise, demonstrating that officers can be friendly, helpful, compassionate, understanding — and even fun shopping buddies.
Traditionally, the department and its officers treat approximately 100 youths to a shopping trip at Walmart, sharing laughs and making holiday memories. The pandemic has made that impractical this year — creating a void that saddens participants on both sides of the program.
While some such programs across
the region have shut down for this
year, the Rome Police are moving
forward by distributing gift cards to the
102 children who have been chosen to
participate in this year’s program.
“It’s not as ideal. It’s not as exciting for the kids or us,” said Police Chief Kevin C. Beach. “But we’ll do the best we can this year and hope we can get back to the normal event next year.”
The annual event normally jam-packs the local store with families and officers, as well as Walmart’s normal shoppers, which organizers recognize won’t fly during the pandemic. Instead, officers will receive the gift cards at Rome Free Academy this weekend in a socially-distant event following state and federal guidelines and restrictions.
Beach said the money for this year’s gift cards came largely from donations from the community throughout the year. “Due to the pandemic and the financial impact it has had for many businesses and individuals, we did not solicit donations this year,” Beach said. “However, several businesses and community members sent donations on their own. We are truly blessed with such a caring and giving community. Many families struggle during the holidays and it’s especially true this year. With the continued support of our Rome community, we are able to help the families of 100 children for Christmas this year. Thank you, Rome!”