About 40 students from Rutland-area schools spent last Thursday morning shopping at Walmart with the help of members of the Rutland City Police Department and other officials including Rutland City Mayor David Allaire.
This opportunity to “Shop With a Cop” wasn’t just a chance to buy video games or “Frozen II” T-shirts or Thanos action figures. As part of the national “Shop With a Cop” event, which was brought to Rutland three years ago by Cpl. Heath Plemmons, qualified students, who might otherwise have had very little during the holidays, were given a “credit” of $200.
When the kids arrived at Walmart that morning, they were paired with a volunteer adult, many of them officers with the city police or Vermont State Police, who took them around the store. The volunteers made sure the kids chose gifts for themselves that were practical.
But the teams found themselves in the toy section as well.
Since the program came to Rutland in 2017, the number of students served has doubled every year from 10 kids the first year to 40 this year, with 25 from Rutland City schools and 15 from West Rutland and Rutland Town schools.
Plemmons said the support from Berkshire Bank, Walmart and the Rutland City Kiwanis Club has allowed the program to grow.
Melissa Solomon, a counselor at Rutland Intermediate School, was helping out at the retail store that day, her first time being involved with “Shop With a Cop.” She said it was a “wonderful” event.
“It’s exciting,” she said.
A group that included RCPD Officer Jimmy Plakas; Tim Owens, the pastor for the Rutland police department; Lucy Casey-Gillam, a substitute para-educator; and two Northwest students, second-grader Aleeah and first-grader Rodney, worked their way methodically across the store.
First they found snow pants, socks, sweatshirts and shoes for the students, hunting for just the right sizes and styles to make the clothing practical and fun.
Rodney was excited at the possibility of Pokemon socks, while Aleeah was more practical, rejecting clothing items she didn’t need but taking an interest in a pair of shiny sneakers.
Coaxed to suggest something she really wanted, Aleeah remained grounded and asked if she could choose a water bottle.
Rodney was more confident about what he wanted, but also reminded Plakas and Owens that some of the items they were passing would make great gifts for his little brother.
Jeremy Boland, general manager at Walmart, said the event was a big deal for everyone at the store. He said the staff worked hard to get enough children’s clothing on the floor, since the store had started to run short during the 2018 “Shop With a Cop.”
“Also, any time we can donate and give something back to the community, it’s a pretty big deal to us,” he added.
Owens helped Plemmons bring “Shop With a Cop” to Rutland when his family and Plemmons’ family moved from North Carolina to Vermont.
“I’ll tell you, this thing, for me, is what, really, I think, what we are about, is serving and giving back. We live in such a culture where everything is about getting. It’s good to give, especially to these kids who, man, are so special,” Owens said.
Aleeah, who called the day “fun,” finally decided that getting LOL Dolls was the best part of the day.
“I used to have LOL Dolls, but my dog jumped up and got them and ate them and chewed them up,” she said.
Rodney, who chatted continuously as he shopped the store, found himself at a loss for words when asked what he liked best about the day.
Plemmons, just after the students from West Rutland and Rutland Town arrived and were paired with police officers, called the day a “huge success.”
“Rutland’s a very giving community. There’s a lot of support here, and a lot of people care about our future generations. You can just tell how much they’ve invested in the kids. It’s just great,” he said.