Last week, Rutland City Police officers protected the rights of about a dozen Rutland City students to have a happy holiday by aiding them in a shopping trip at Walmart.
During the second annual “Shop With a Cop” event, a national event brought to Rutland last year by Cpl. A. Heath Plemmons, about 20 students from Rutland schools were paired with one of 14 Rutland police officers, a member of the local Kiwanis Club and, in one case, with Mayor David Allaire, to buy presents at the downtown Walmart.
After the kids arrived at Walmart, they were led by their partner team to find clothing first, then school supplies and finally toys. The goal was to meet the students’ needs first and then help them find something more fun as a holiday present.
Paul Boyer, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Rutland, said the club was looking for a project they could support in partnership with the police. Plemmons suggested Shop With a Cop.
Plemmons said the event was planned to not only help kids in need have a better holiday, but to change the perception some may have about police officers.
“We want to break down those barriers and start good relations with the kids,” he said.
Helping the police officers communicate with young children he knows well, Jay Slenker, principal of the Rutland Intermediate School, said he thought Shop With a Cop was a “great” program. He noted the number of kids who participated had doubled from 10 served in 2017.
Slenker said the school identified the students who would participate in the event and also worked to coordinate with other holiday charities to try to serve as many families as possible without duplication.
“It was a surprise for our kids, which is good. The families knew but the kids did not. It was supposed to be a surprise. They are just elated,” he said.
About half the funding for Shop With a Cop came from the Kiwanis, the Rutland City Police Benevolent Association, the Rutland City Police Department and Walmart. Another $2,000 was raised by a number of Rutland businesses, making it a total of $4,000 raised overall to support the effort.
Moving through the children’s clothing department, Detective Ryan Ashe and Joe Krazetz, a Kiwanis Club member, helped two young boys find the right items.
The two boys found dinosaur T-shirts they liked that got added to the cart.
One boy found a sweatshirt he liked but had a question about the donations he was getting. He wanted to know if he could also pick out a sweatshirt for his brother.
Several children could be heard asking similar questions. One said his brother was having a birthday in two days and he wanted to find his younger brother a present.
Ashe, trying to find the right fit for the kids he was guiding, told them that he was impressed by their generous nature but suggested they consider a day for themselves as he was helping the boys reach the Minecraft hats they wanted.
Plemmons’ hope that the event would improve relations between police and the community showed signs of success as one of the boys told Ashe he wanted to find a “cop shirt.”
Allaire, in the shoe section, helped an older student find a pair of boots that would fit.
One parent who joined the event, Mark Wilson, called it a good way to “combat the drug epidemic” and the negative perceptions the heroin epidemic brought to Rutland and its police department.