PBA Locals in Cape May and Hunterdon counties bring special joy to kids
More than 20 Wildwood Local 59 members escorted kids into the Walmart in Rio Grande on Dec. 18. They watched them bubble up with joy over the opportunity to choose any toy they wanted.
“I had a 6-year-old, and it was like a Tasmanian devil going through Walmart,” declared Jeff Harkins, the Local 59 treasurer who is on with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. “The kids had a blast.”
Local 59 members also bubbled up with emotion over their first-ever Shop with a Cop event. They knew what members from Hunterdon Local 188 felt having hosted Shop with a Cop for the fifth time. Amazing support from the community helped these two Locals bring special Christmas cheer to more than 100 children.
“Even if you’re not in the holiday spirit, the moment that you got there and saw the first kid and the look in their eyes, you were automatically Santa’s helper,” Harkins explained. “There’s no true way to put words to it other than it was the best day in law enforcement.”
Each child was assigned to an officer, and they walked through the store together. Harkins recounted how excited officers were to create a memorable experience for the children, including one family who couldn’t attend because they had to quarantine. Two officers FaceTimed the family to bring them around the store, ensuring they would not feel left out.
“The officers went around and basically tore apart the entire store. And those kids had a blast, too, and they weren’t even present,” Harkins added. “It was a great experience for every officer involved. There’s no better way to give back to these kids and to make sure that they had a great event and a memorable Christmas.”
Harkins described how grateful each child was because for some of them, it was the only present they received for Christmas. A lot of them knew their families were going through hard times and feared Christmas might not happen for them.
But the event in Cape May wasn’t about accolades. It was about seeing the pure joy on the kids’ faces.
“There were kids that were friends with each other, seeing each other in a parking lot, giving each other high fives. It was like they won the lottery,” Harkins added. “These kids were hugging us like we were their dads and their moms. They were ecstatic. They basically felt like they were a part of our family.”
The excitement was just as rewarding for Local 188 members because the event has expanded over the years. It started with only one or two families, then this year, members met with nine families from the local community on Dec. 14.
“Our officers see the kids in the schools every day, they’re seeing us in their time of need, and here we’re able to get back and get that personal relationship and have that fun experience with officers riding around on shopping carts and joking around with the kids,” Corporal Brian McNally explained.
Starting the day at Fred Beans Toyota, children joined officers to write their wish lists. Then officers caravanned to Walmart in Flemington with the children to choose their presents. To end the day, they went back to the Toyota dealership to wrap the gifts with their families.
McNally recounted the incredible gratitude he received from each of the children, knowing this event truly makes a difference in their lives.
“We received letters from a couple of the parents, and a couple of the kids drew us thank-you cards for really helping make their Christmas special this year,” McNally added. “Because you had families that didn’t have much, we were able to brighten that holiday season for them.”