It is not unusual for the Monroe Police Department’s annual Shop with a Cop event to generate impromptu donations from random passersby, but this year one man took it to a whole new level when he dropped off $10,000 at the police station the next day.
The 2016 Shop with a Cop program benefitting disadvantaged youth took place Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Monroe Walmart. Founded by detectives Spencer Robinson and Tim Buzzell in 2014, the referral-based program pairs officers with youth in the community for a shopping spree.
Fifteen officers, sergeants, detectives and K9 officers participated in this year’s event, serving 14 kids. The 15th child was sick and unable to attend, but Robinson said they plan to pick her up as soon as she is well enough, so she won’t miss the chance to shop.
“We’re going to pick her up next week and make sure she gets to enjoy her time,” Robinson said.
This year’s participants ranged in age from 4 to 15, and were each given a $125 budget.
Built on community and a desire to serve, the event attracts attention every year. Shoppers sometimes pause in their tracks as the officers, sharply dressed in their Class A uniforms, follow the whims of their junior partners, patiently wandering the toy aisles while taking time to bond, engage and help them choose gifts.
Kids are referred to the program by local organizations, including the Monroe School District and the Monroe Boys & Girls Club, in addition to being identified during police incidents.
As each child carefully considered how to spend their $125, it was difficult to tell who was enjoying themselves more, the kids or the officers.
Officers Jason Southard and Craig Robertson were paired with 10-year-old twin girls from east Snohomish County, who immediately set off in different directions in the store. Robertson, paired with one sister, was struck by the girl’s generosity, as she insisted on spending her entire budget on her twin and younger sister. He said that he repeatedly encouraged her to buy something for herself, but she wouldn’t.
That is a common theme during Shop with a Cop, and something that happens every year. The kids are more interested in providing for their family members than they are in purchasing toys for themselves.
It was an invaluable experience for Robertson, a father of three, because it allowed him to do something he’s always wanted to do — pick out a dress for a girl.
“I have three boys, so I got to do something that was extra special for me,” Robertson said.
During its first year in 2014, Robinson and Buzzell primarily funded the event. Today, it is supported by the Monroe Police Officers Association (MPOA), a nonprofit organization made up of law enforcement officers and administrative staff who want to give back to the community. Fundraising is always their biggest challenge, Robinson said, as they don’t like to turn anyone away.
This year’s primary Shop with a Cop fundraiser was a Nov. 23 bake sale. The sale was open to city and fire department staff, who were well beyond generous, Robinson said. People were leaving $20 bills at the $2 grab-a-cookie plate, or paying $100 after winning a $30 cake in the dessert auction.
“People are just so generous,” Robinson said. “It’s really amazing.”
Cash donations occasionally come in during the event, by shoppers caught up in the moment and wanting to support the program in future years. This year was no different, said Sgt. Cindy Chessie, who collected more than $50 in donations on the night of the event. That’s why, when she observed a man chatting with Officer Max Michel at the start of the event, she thought nothing of it.
Thursday morning, that same man arrived at the police station, asking to talk to the individual in charge of Shop with a Cop. Robinson wasn’t there, so Chessie came out to greet him. Chessie serves as the president of the MPOA and is a well-known community advocate and champion for Special Olympics.
Right away, she realized it was the same person she had seen talking with Michel.
“He said, ‘I saw what you guys were doing last night,’” Chessie said. ‘It was great… It just touched my heart.’”
He told her he wanted to make a donation, reached into his pocket, and pulled out $10,000 in cash. He told Chessie he wanted no recognition for the donation; only to further the department’s community outreach efforts. He told her he was from back east, where police and community relationships are very different. He told her it meant a lot to see them with the kids.
“I was shaking and I was teary-eyed,” Chessie said. “I just I couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s huge,” said Administrative Director Debbie Willis. “It’s something that we can nest egg and kind of spread out over the next few years and continue to make a difference.”
Chessie said the donation couldn’t have come at a better time. The MPOA brings in roughly $8,000 a year in donations, which is largely collected from police employees in the form of dues. Prior to Shop with a Cop, the MPOA would typically choose a family in need to help during the holidays, in addition to other community outreach performed throughout the year. The funds have been depleted in recent years, and they’ve been considering ways to fundraise to replenish the general fund.
Ten thousand dollars will go a long way toward ensuring future efforts, Chessie said.
“This has just been a windfall — a blessing. I don’t even know what to call it, there’s not words,” she said.
From the beginning, Shop with a Cop has had an impact, not only on the officers and the participants, but also for those who witness it. In 2014, the event included shopping excursions at both Fred Meyer and Walmart, bringing one shopper to tears as the sea of blue converged upon the toy aisles at Fred Meyer. It has evolved since then, becoming more streamlined to reduce transportation needs and maximize the experience for its participants.
Transportation can be challenging, as it is largely up to the officers to collect the kids prior to the event.
“The hard part for us is that most of our vehicles aren’t really set up for transporting kids,” Robinson said.
This year the Monroe Boys & Girls Club and Speedway Chevrolet stepped up to provide transportation. Walmart provided a $600 grant to support the event, along with free pizza, treats, hugs from Walmart’s own Santa Claus and a party room.
Walmart is a strong Shop with a Cop supporter, said security specialist Pertrisha Gray.
When Robinson learned of the $10,000 donation, he was struck by the amazing generosity of a stranger. Shop with a Cop is a personal event for him, as it was founded based on an interaction he had with his then 4-year-old son, who was incredulous at the idea that some kids didn’t have dads or homes. He founded Shop with a Cop shortly after that, giving his son full credit for the inspiration.
Since the beginning, Robinson’s primary goal has been to find a way to make Shop with a Cop sustainable, so they can continue helping kids every year.
The $10,000 will go a long way toward facilitating that, he said, and he hopes he will get the opportunity to thank the donor at some point in the future.
“I hope I get to meet him sometime, so I can tell him thank you,” Robinson said.