Christmas came early to 10-year-old Nina Crane and 14 other children who live with their parents on campus.
The third annual Shop with a Cop event took place Tuesday, allowing children to buy gifts for themselves and their families for the holidays. The event, sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America at SIU and Kohl’s, gives a selected number of children $100 gift cards to shop at Kohl’s with police officers from the Department of Public Safety.
This year, 15 children were able to buy Christmas presents for themselves and their families. Officer Ryan House accompanied Crane as she bought earrings, videogames and various gifts for her family with her gift card.
The spirit of giving is not lost for Crane, as she decided to buy presents for family as well as herself. She said she wants to show them how much she cares about them.
“My family’s important and I want them to know that I care for them and right now my family’s in a hard position and I want to give them something,” she said.
House said in his 17 years as a police officer, he thinks SIU provides the best Shop with a Cop event because of the direct impact the event has on parents who attend the university.
“This is one of my favorite parts of the job and this is probably one of my favorite Shop with a Cop events I’ve ever done is here at SIU,” he said.
The opportunity to provide these children with a proper Christmas is one of the draws of participating in the event, House said. He said he was fortunate as a child to have good Christmases and wants to see these children be able to enjoy theirs.
Families of the children also find Christmas joy in having their kids buy gifts at their leisure.
Crane’s mother, Christina Flores, a junior from Austin, Texas, studying management, said being a mother in college can be difficult and the event is a way for her daughter to enjoy the holidays.
“As a student and a mother, resources can be tight and this was an opportunity for my daughter to feel good about herself, to write about something that makes our family special to her and kind of reward her for being such a wonderful kid,” she said.
Flores said being a non-traditional student has led to some effects on her daughter and the event is a way to reward her for being a good sport about her parents’ decisions. She said the experience shows the diversity of the university and promotes helping each other out.
The experience was also fun for the officers in attendance, some of whom started as police officers less than a year ago.
Officer Carrie Street, DPS coordinator for Shop with a Cop, said the event has grown in size and become an important event for DPS.
“In our job, we always see the bad in the community and we, unfortunately, have the opportunity to arrest most of the students we come into contact with,” she said. “This is the way we get to see the children of the students. We get to meet them and we get to have a day with them. It sets a good vibe for them.”
Street said the event helps the children become friendlier with officers and helps build a better community for them to grow up in. She said several officers who attended were fresh out of the police academy and jumped at the opportunity for the event.
Denise McClearey, a speech communications senior lecturer and PRSSA faculty adviser, said events like Shop with a Cop are common, but SIU’s is different because of its collaboration between various campus groups.
“Three years ago, we decided we wanted to take our (event) to a different level by making it all-campus centered,” she said. “So all of the children selected are children of SIU students.”
McClearey said the children selected are from student families who live in Evergreen Terrace.
Kohl’s provides $500 in gift cards and the rest of the money must be collected from donations, McClearey said. She said the company got involved because it strongly supports children’s charities.
Each year, prospective children and their families are approached by the PRSSA and are informed their children must write an essay about what Christmas means to them in order to be considered for the event, McClearey said. She said the process of selecting children can be difficult because only a fraction of the entries is chosen.
Aleisha Guerrettaz, a senior from Salem studying speech communication and PRSSA vice president, said the process of narrowing down which kids would be selected was challenging, but she judged them as fairly as possible.
“I mainly focused on what I truly believe Christmas is about, and that’s not receiving presents, it’s about giving,” she said.
Nicole Kmiotek, a junior from Chicago studying speech communications and president of PRSSA, said the excitement of helping children and their families for Christmas is almost too much to bear.
“I’m looking forward to the spirit of Christmas coming out in these little kids because they have so much fun,” she said.