By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Capt. Pat Bundy of the Struthers Police Department still chuckles when he thinks about last year’s Shop with a Cop excursion.
One day in December, more than 60 underprivileged schoolchildren from Struthers, accompanied by at least 20 chaperones from the city’s police and fire departments, swarmed Walmart, ready to shop.
“It looked like the D-Day invasion,” Bundy said.
This year, he’s expecting an even larger turnout for the donation-driven program, thanks in part to a car show planned for noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Fifth Street Plaza. Proceeds from the event — which includes family-oriented activities such as train rides, a dunk tank and an auction — will benefit Struthers Shop with a Cop, now in its third year.
A donation of $100 to the program sponsors one child, Bundy said, adding that half of that amount must be spent by the child on clothing, while the other half can be spent on whatever the child wants.
The one rule of the program, though, is that children must spend the money on themselves — they’re not allowed to buy presents for anyone else, although they often try to do so anyway, Bundy added.
“The kids are great. They’re so appreciative, so polite,” he said. “There are a few heart-touching stories of kids buying gifts, spending [their money] on their little baby brother or sister. That’s what Christmas is all about.”
Bundy said, too, that he’s consistently overwhelmed by community support for Shop with a Cop, which often goes “above and beyond” what he expected.
For example, though the program started with only those employed by the police department, it since has expanded to employees of the fire department and city hall, as well as their family members.
In addition, numerous donations have come in from both the people and businesses of Struthers, Bundy said, adding that this year’s Shop with a Cop day likely will include a donated breakfast and limousine service, as it has in years past.
Students from the district’s elementary, middle and high schools are eligible to take part in the program, and often are referred to it by teachers and school officials, as well as by members of the police department.
Maggie Kowach, principal of Struthers Elementary School, said working so closely with students every day allows her and other employees the chance to identify children whose families may be experiencing some hardships, especially during the holiday season.
Kowach said Shop with a Cop gives those children the opportunity to enjoy the holidays, and not worry about any financial burdens they may bring. Spending money on both needs and wants, too, teaches children an important lesson, she added.
“It’s very important to understand that your needs have to be taken care of before your wants, but the holiday spirit is also about magic and having those things you wish you could have that you might not receive,” Kowach said. “[The program shows] that somebody in the community cared enough to make sure some of your wishes could come true.”
Involvement from members of the police and fire departments also serves as a great bonding experience for children, she said, adding that it helps them understand that both forces are “there to protect us.” Children may then be inspired to do their best in school so they too “can someday give back to their community,” Kowach added.
This year’s shopping day will be Dec. 22, said Denise Collingwood of Panther’s Run, which is organizing the car show.
About 15 vehicles ranging from street rods to classics to trucks already have registered. Registration is $8 through Saturday, then $10 on the day of the show, Collingwood said, adding that she’s expecting about 100 vehicles to register for the event.
“We need to bring the community back, and have people proud of their community,” Collingwood said. “We need to stick together as a close-knit family and help everybody.”
For more information, call Panther’s Run Event Management at 330-261-6550, or visit the website, www.panthersrun.net.