Local police officers make elementary students Christmas wishes come true with the help of United Way of Northwest Indiana

Local police officers make elementary students Christmas wishes come true with the help of United Way of Northwest Indiana

Christmas came early for the kids at Hebron and Kouts Elementary Schools. More than 25 students had the opportunity to shop with a cop, an event made possible through a partnership with United Way of Northwest Indiana and Valparaiso Meijer. On Wednesday, December 15 and Friday, December 17, police officers helped the students shop for holiday gifts for themselves and their families. Each kid received $100 to spend on items in the store, and any leftover funds were donated to the schools.

Kasie Tenbarge, senior director of development at United Way of Northwest Indiana, said they have worked hard to bring these connections together to benefit all involved.

“It takes a lot of relationships working together to help residents thrive. Through our partnerships with Meijer, the school systems, and the police departments, we do just that and it’s well worth the effort,” she said. 

Tenbarge explained that the connections to make this happen came about when Meijer opened in Valparaiso four years ago. Upon hearing that the store wanted to give back to the community as much as possible, United Way knew exactly how to help and developed the Shop with a Cop event and other initiatives to help Meijer meet their community support goals.

“It's such a neat community partnership to bring together the police department, the school, United Way, and Meijer,” said Kouts Elementary School Principal Teri Detering. “It's such a team effort and so neat for the kids to get out and just see life a little bit different for a little while. It is fun for us, but I think the kids are going to remember it for their whole lives.”

Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021

Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021 51 Photos
Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021Holiday Shop with a Cop Kouts Police Department and Kouts Elementary 2021

A handful of local police officers volunteered to spend time with the kids shopping, and they all enjoyed truly making it the most wonderful time of the year for each and every one of them.

“Oh, it's fantastic,” said Brant Mendenhall, police officer with the Indiana State Police, “Just helping the kids out and seeing them joyful at this time of the year is outstanding. And just helping them get gifts that they may have not otherwise been able to get for their family is awesome, too.”

The officers also see this as a great opportunity to be involved with the community as well.

“I just love being around the kids, making the connections, and being able to help out,” said Indiana Conservation Officer Alex Neel.

“It's a good thing to do and it’s nice to help the kids have a good Christmas,” Patrol Officer for Kouts Police Department Kenny Green added.

Jaye Wahl, community outreach manager for United Way of Northwest Indiana, said it’s a great feeling seeing the officers interacting with the kids.

“This has been amazing to watch how the officers interact with the children and how excited they are to do their Christmas shopping. This is one of those great events where we can feel the impact that we make right away,” she said.

Chelsea Winder, a social worker at Kouts Elementary, mirrors Wahl’s words and said seeing the student’s reactions are priceless.

“I love watching their eyes light up from the second we get on the bus and sirens start going, to when they're shopping, to when they come back and they're talking about everything they bought. It’s just great,” she said.

It was the kids who enjoyed this the most, though, and each of them had a blast picking out christmas presents.

Julian, age 10, was one of the students shopping with a cop, and loved the opportunity to pick out gifts for himself and his family for the holiday season.

“I like that it's my brother's birthday and I can get a dinosaur. And I can make my family happy,” he said.

Dominic, Julian’s brother, was also shopping with the officers, and was ecstatic about his new toy dinosaur he got for his sixth birthday.

“I like it!” he said, smiling from ear to ear while holding his gift.

For more information on United Way of Northwest Indiana, visit https://www.unitedwaynwi.org/