By JEN CARDINES
The REACH foundation, a non-profit organization that benefits children in need, is holding its fourth annual Shop With A Cop program this season to provide a unique holiday experience for under-served children.
During this event, each child is paired with a participating law enforcement officer to they shop for themselves, their families and an identified child from the community where the officer serves. The children in the program generally range within elementary and middle school ages.
The program begins with a ‘meet and greet’ over dinner and entertainment followed by a Police procession with flashing lights to the host Target store. This year, the participating towns are Southington, Manchester, Enfield, and Milford.
The Southington participants will enjoy their meet and greet at Crystal Bees on Spring Street, followed by shopping at the Target on Executive Boulevard.
Once everyone arrives at the department store, the youngsters are paired back up with their “partner” and begin their one-on-one shopping experience. Santa will be there and walk around offering his secret information to the shoppers as they pick presents for their family.
Some local and national celebrities are also scheduled to stop by to participate, creating big excitement as well.
When the shopping is finished, the children receive a goodie bag and get their pictures taken with their officer, Santa, and Mark Wilson, a co-founder of The REACH Foundation.
Over 250 children will be served at the four locations this year, buying for themselves, their families and another child from their community. There are over 30 Connecticut Police Departments, including Connecticut State Police, which participate in this program.
Officer Tom Gallo, who has participated all four years, heads the Southington team. They include Officers Chad Michaud, Thomas Atteratto, Mark DiBattista, Lauren Verab, Kevin Naranjo, and James Valentine, Lt. Stephen Elliot, Sgt. Jason Plourde, and Det. Karen Apicella.
“It’s incredible to see how excited the kids get to buy gifts for other people and not just themselves,” Gallo said. “The program is absolutely fantastic.”
Shop With A Cop was created to help strengthen the relationships between at risk youth and law enforcement in their communities, while providing a special holiday experience for children in need. This event is done in hopes that it will deter even one child from choosing a life of crime or violence.
The participating children are identified by schools, youth organizations, social service agencies, outreach programs, and service providers.
The donation is coming at a critical time of year when low-income families struggle to come up with holiday gifts for their children.
For more information, visit www.thereachfoundation.org.