Cops and Kids program helps record number of children

Santa probably was the safest he has ever been as he turned up Saturday with more than 50 law enforcement officers for the annual Fraternal Order of Police’s Cops and Kids shopping event at Walmart in Seymour.

“It helps a lot of families,” said Stefani Wetzel, whose son, Jackson Legg, was able to participate. “Right now, we’re in a bit of a hardship and this gives Jackson a bit of a Christmas.”

This year’s program helped a record-setting 145 kids from 69 different families receive presents for Christmas. The event also served as an opportunity for the kids to see law enforcement in a positive setting.

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“It’s important to see that we’re human too,” said Jackson County Sheriff’s Department officer Adam Nicholson. “I think 60 to 70 percent of us (officers) are here on our time off, and we brought our families too.”

Officers from the sheriff’s department and Seymour, Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora police departments along with Indiana State Police troopers, staff from the Jackson County Jail and even officers from other counties attended the event this year to help bring a smile to both kids and adults.

Jackson County Crime scene technician Bob Lucas said he has been participating in Cops and Kids since 1989, when the program was called Shop with a Cop.

“I’ve never met a child that didn’t enjoy it and appreciate it,” Lucas said.

The program emphasizes getting necessities for children such as warm clothing, but the officers always make sure some of the money is left over for children to get toys too.

“It’s a great thing for him,” said Jessica Hall as her son, Eric Hall, shopped for Pokemon cards with a Seymour officer.

“I like all of it, the (model) Camero, the Nerf gun and the cards,” Eric said of what he picked out.

The program is important because it helps families that may not be able to afford what kids want for Christmas, said Jessica Hall.

Applicants in previous years wrote letters explaining why they should be selected, but this year was the first year for a formal application process through Jackson County United Way’s charity tracker program, which prevents duplication of services.

“We partnered with United Way for that part, and it worked really well,” said Foster.

Wetzel and her son shopped for clothes with Seymour Officer Crystal Schapson.

“We’re looking at getting him a winter coat and maybe coveralls. He’s on a tractor a lot,” Wetzel said. “Maybe a toy monster truck as well.”

Seymour Detective C.J. Foster, president of FOP’s Donald M. Winn Lodge 108, said each child was able to spend $130 this year. The organization collected nearly $20,000 through fundraisers including a car show and sales of ice cream floats during the annual Scoop the Loop event in downtown Seymour.

Cops and Kids also receives financial support from the Seymour Area Cruiser’s Car Club, Centra Credit Union and the Centra Foundation. Proceeds raised through last April’s Mother and Son Date Knight organized by Heather Chase also went to support the cause.

“I may not show it, but deep down, seeing the kids smile means the most for me and, I think, for a lot of these officers out here,” Foster said.

“The reaction from the kids and the experiences they have are just something I’ll never forget,” Nicholson added.

All the officers involved said they valued the event because it is a chance to interact with kids and the public in a positive way.

“(We) just want to help people. I did D.A.R.E. for a while as well, and it’s the same thing. We just want to help educate and protect kids,” Lucas said.

“We always are trying to do good for the community,” Nicholson added. “We help with donations sometimes, but this is a way we get to see the good we do personally.”