By ELISE McKEOWN SKOLNICK
More than 50 students in the Youngstown City School District earned the right to shop till they dropped.
The students, age 8 to 16, were paired with active and retired police officers and given $100 to shop for friends, family and themselves.
“This is something that they actually earn to come here. That’s what makes it different,” said Rick Alli, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Youngstown Lodge #28.
Officers from areas such as Hubbard and Youngstown State University were included in Saturday’s event at Kmart on Boardman Poland Road.
“We ask other departments to come in so that now they can see that there are actually good kids in the Youngstown school system,” Alli added.
The FOP Lodge 28 raises money throughout the year for the Shop with the Cop program, now in its third year.
To be accepted as a shopper, students must attend school regularly and have a good discipline record. They also were required to write an essay on what they are doing to help their school building reach its goals.
Dominque Byrd, 10, was taking part in the program for the first time.
“I just wanted to see if I could win,” he said.
For his essay, he wrote about helping other students in his school with studying, so they can earn better grades.
He used his $100 to buy Christmas presents for family members.
“I have two sisters and four brothers,” he said. “It’s a blessing that I got this.”
Hawlaysia Warren, 11, was also participating for the first time.
The extra work of writing an essay was worth it for the chance to earn $100 in shopping money, she said.
Her essay discussed her plan to help other students study. She shopped for her family and herself.
“It’s fun,” she said.
The students were treated to breakfast before shopping, and Warren said the breakfast of doughnuts, grapes, oranges and juice was good.
The program helped her learn more about police officers.
“They’re just here to help,” Warren said.
Tina Cvetkovich was proud of her daughter, Skyann Braun, for writing an essay for the program.
“This was her first attempt at writing an essay,” Cvetkovich said. “And she won. And she was very, very excited.”
It’s an opportunity her daughter, age 12, wouldn’t have had otherwise, she said.
“She was worried that she wasn’t going to be able to buy presents for her brothers and her sister,” Cvetkovich said.
The program is “awesome,” Cvetkovich said. “Because it shows a different side of the police officers to the children, so that children who would have misconceptions about police officers see them in a different light and then, maybe, they won’t be afraid to tell them they need help or something’s going on.”
And that’s one of the goals of the program, said Michael Bodnar, a Youngstown police officer.
“We’re here to help the community,” he said. “And that’s all inclusive. Anything we can do to show kids that they don’t have to be afraid of us, that they can come to us if they have a question or if they have a problem.”