By Anne Eickstadt

ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
Belvidere Fire Chief Al Hyser and his shopping partner share an aisle with a Belvidere police officer and his young shopping companion.

Better known as “Shop with a Cop” this event has become far more than that. The police and sheriff’s departments, the Belvidere Fire and the Boone County fire departments participate as well. They all had the opportunity to Shop with a Kid.

All 11 grade schools in Boone County submitted the names of several kids to join the law enforcement officers and firefighters for this event. This year’s kids who participated were paired up with a LEO or FF buddy and allotted an amount of money to spend on their family members for Christmas. Then the fun began.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, everyone gathered between 7:30 and 8 a.m. at the Belvidere Walmart, 2101 Gateway Center Dr. After the buddies conferred, they scattered around the store and each child had the opportunity to pick out gifts. The adult buddy steered the child in the right direction and kept them on track although was up to the child as to who they wanted to shop for and what they wanted to buy. The buddies had until 9 a.m. to find just the right presents. When they were satisfied with their choices, they brought their gifts to volunteers at the back of the store who wrapped the presents for them.

By the end of the event, the gifts were ready for the holiday, the excited kids had had a wonderful time, and so had the LEO and FF personnel who were able to help the kids and make new friends.

“We’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” said Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest. “It’s a great way to give back from law enforcement and the fire department. Crimestoppers, and the IOU Club donate the money for this. Every one of the sheriff’s deputies, police officers, and firefighters are volunteers for this event. We have all been looking forward to this.”

“We love watching the kids shop for their family members,” said Police Chief Shane Woody. “We love interacting with the community and making new friends among the kids.”

“I’ve been on the job for 26 years and we have done it every year,” said Belvidere Fire Chief Al Hyser. “This is the fun part of the job—giving back to the community. All of these first responders are volunteering their own time to be here.”

Crimestoppers Vice-Chairman Theresa Balk said, “We coordinate with all the schools in the area. They choose the students to participate in this event. The Belvidere Police Department, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Belvidere Fire Department coordinate the staff that volunteer to Shop with a Kid. Their families will help by wrapping the gifts for the kids.

“I’m glad I get to be a part of this. Getting to see kids shopping and come back with gifts—they’re so excited!”

The program was originally established by Belvidere Police Officer John Coduto and his wife Pam who was an employee at Kmart. The program was started there. It began small with 20 police officers. As the program grew larger, the BPD and sheriff’s department added the Belvidere Fire Department and then the rural fire departments because hardships had fallen upon so many. This is one way they are able to give back to the community.

Hallmark supplied the wrapping materials for the gifts, Crimestoppers and the IOU Club purchased the gifts.

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