Police officers help children spread holiday cheer

Gary yim | Fort Campbell Courier

Byron Sumner, an employee at Walmart in Hopkinsville, hands a snow globe to Leilani Thomas, 8, as she shops for her mother with Fort Campbell military police officer Spc. John Oganeku,163rd Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, Wednesday. Leilani and Oganeku were together as part of the Fraternal Order of Police’s annual Shop with a Cop event, in which children get to shop for their Families with uniformed police officers.

Four Fort Campbell children learned more about the spirit of giving as they participated in Christian County’s Shop with a Cop program Wednesday.

Lodge 12 of the Fraternal Order of Police, that includes Christian County and Fort Campbell, sponsored and organized the event.

“Shop with a Cop is a national program,” said Joe Varney, vice president of Lodge 12 of the FOP and former provost marshal of Fort Campbell. “It’s been in existence for over 30 years. Fort Campbell has been invited to participate with Christian County since 2006. So this is the 12th year that Fort Campbell has been invited to participate.”

The program pairs a few lucky children with police officers who take them shopping for Christmas gifts. 

The Fort Campbell children selected this year were Tyler Coffey, 10, Neveah Reyes, 10, Leilani Thomas, 8, and Lauran Wenske, 8.

“[Everything] is paid for through our organization,” Varney said. “So the child goes there with a shopping list for their Family members, they pick out all the goodies for the Family members, we take them back to our lodge, where our elves help the children wrap the presents for their Family members. Then, Santa Claus shows up who has a gift for every child.”


Spirit of Christmas

Varney said the FOP hopes to teach the children that Christmas is about selflessness.

“We hope to impart upon them the idea that you give to others, and then through your good deeds, rewards come back to you,” Varney said. “They’re not shopping for themselves. We’re trying to teach the children that the spirit of Christmas is to give to others. So the children have an opportunity to go to the store with a uniformed officer in a marked police car to buy gifts for their immediate Family.”

Leilani said she was buying a snow globe for her mother.

“I’m getting her the ones with polar bears and penguins,” Leilani said. “My mom loves polar bears and penguins.”

Specialist John Oganeku, 163rd Military Police Company, 716 MP Bn., the military police officer paired with Leilani, said he was excited to volunteer for the program.

“I was told about [Shop with a Cop] by Sgt. Hatmaker, another Fort Campbell police officer,” Oganeku said. “When Sgt. Hatmaker told me about what they do for the kids, I felt like I had to try and give back [to the community].”

Neveah said she was buying a video game headset for her brother.

“We like to play video games,” Neveah said. “This way, we can talk to each other while we’re playing.”

Sergeant Jacquoline Phillips, 561st MP Co., 716th MP Bn., the military police officer paired with Neveah, said this was her first time shopping with the children.

“I’ve done this event before as a [present] wrapper,” Phillips said. “I wanted to see what it was like from this side of things. It’s been great getting to know the kids.”


Community relations

Varney said one of the goals of the program is to introduce law enforcement to children in a positive light.

“Unfortunately, children who are in bad situations, some of their only encounters with police are in a negative aspect,” Varney said. “If there is a domestic dispute, the police officer is the one who takes away their parents. If there is a child neglect, it’s a police officer who removes the child from the home. If a Family member has been accused of theft, it’s a police officer who comes and takes the Family member away from the child. So unfortunately, for good children that are in bad situations, their first encounter with law enforcement is negative. So we want to help show them that law enforcement [officers] are really the good guys. We want to show these kids it’s not the law enforcement officer that’s causing the hardship for the Family, the law enforcement officer is there to assist the Family and try to rectify whatever the bad situation is.”

Varney said the children are not selected by the FOP.

“The schools select the children,” Varney said. “We asked the schools to provide a child that’s in good academic standing but has come upon some misfortune, some incident that’s beyond their control. We oftentimes get a child who lost a Soldier or a child whose mother just entered stage 4 cancer. We’re looking for good kids who are in bad situations.”


How can you help?

Henry Gould, president of Lodge 12 of the FOP and a deputy sheriff with the Christian County Sheriff’s Office, said the money for the event is provided by donations to the FOP.

“The generosity of people who want to give back make this all possible,” Gould said.

Gould said the event will occur again, and any help is greatly appreciated.

If you would like to know more about Shop with a Cop or FOP, call Gould at 270-484-0925.