By Ed Brock
Edna Prince of Riverdale was facing Christmas last year with three granddaughters in her care and limited options for providing them with gifts.
"I had gone on disability. I wasn't able to work and we just fell behind," Prince said.
Luckily, somebody nominated Prince and her three granddaughters, ages 12, 10 and 8, for the Riverdale Police Department's "Shop With A Cop" program. While the officers were entertaining the girls, Prince was given gift certificates with which she bought dolls, clothes, books, CDs and more.
"It was wonderful. They had a great time," Prince said.
Now the Riverdale department and others are preparing for this year's Shop With A Cop program and other events intended to bring Christmas cheer to the cheerless.
In Riverdale, the department's second year of participating in the program started with a $1,000 donation from the Wal-Mart store on Ga. Highway 85 that Riverdale Police Chief Mike Edwards accepted on Wednesday.
"They're really good stewards to the community," Edwards said about Wal-Mart. "They meet their responsibilities as good corporate citizens."
Wal-Mart stores around the country participate in the Shop With A Cop program in which children from needy families are brought in to the store and given a certain amount of credit with which to buy what they want. Usually the officers from the participating agencies accompany the child as they shop to help them make their choices, but the Riverdale department takes a different approach.
"We'll start off with providing a Christmas dinner (on Dec. 10) to the children and their family," Riverdale Officer Russell Rogers said.
After the dinner the children's parents receive gift certificates for the store.
"We sing karaoke with the children and play games while their parents shop," Rogers said.
The children also get a visit from Santa Claus during the party and they receive additional presents from him. The parents also get vouchers they can use later for food for their individual Christmas Day dinners, Russell said.
Half of the $1,000 the department received Wednesday will go to paying for the dinners and vouchers while the other half goes to the gift certificates. The store will also donate a percentage of its sales profit from Dec. 6 to the program.
Last year they donated a total of $2,500 to Shop With A Cop, Riverdale Wal-Mart Community Involvement Coordinator Myra Crawley said.
People who want to nominate a family for Riverdale's program should send a letter (no phone calls) addressed to Shop With A Cop to the police department at 6690 Church Street, Riverdale, 30274. Rogers said they need the letters by the end of the month and, while the program is open to people outside the city priority for acceptance will be given to Riverdale residents.
The Wal-Mart in Morrow will host a Shop With A Cop program on Dec. 6 that will involve the Morrow, Forest Park and Lake City police departments along with the Clayton College and State University campus police.
The store will pick 10 children from recommendations by the Department of Family and Children's Services, Rainbow House shelter, schools and churches, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Angelia Lewis said. Each child will be given $200 and an officer to guide them in their shopping.
"The kids just love it," Lewis said. "To have a policeman shopping with them, it just lights them up."
It's good for the police officers as well.
"It's not often you can be involved in something like that as a police officer," Lake City Police Chief David Colwell said. "I think all the officers who participated (last year) came away with the same feeling."
Colwell even contributed some of his own money when the child he was escorting went over his budget.
"It was the best $40 I ever spent," Colwell said.
Often the children have to be urged to buy something for themselves because they think only of buying gifts for others or household items that their family needs, Morrow police Capt. Charlie Sewell said.
Shop With A Cop is also a good way for the children to learn that police are people and are there to help, Sewell said.
"So many times with children their only encounter with police officers is when mom or dad have been arrested or when they're in an accident or they're the victims of a crime," Sewell said. "It's not always positive."
Officers in Sewell's department will also hold their annual Underprivileged Children's Christmas Party on Dec. 16 in which they pick 20 children from the community and treat them to a night of dinner, games and a visit from Santa (with presents).
The Jonesboro Police Department may not participate in Shop With A Cop this year, but Chief Mark Harris said they have some families in town who they plan to help.
Also, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office will once again have a Christmas dinner for the women and children at the Hope House homeless shelter near Forest Park. The dinner will be on Dec. 19, sheriff's Sgt. Tina Daniel said.
"They give us their wish list and we do the gift shopping from that," Daniel said.
Last year they helped nine families with 17 children who were staying at the shelter, Daniel said.
As for Prince, she said she believes she'll be able to provide her own Christmas presents for the girls this year.
"They understand that I do the best I can," Prince said.