Cops and kids relate in charity

Shopping in Niles

Sylvia Bobbitt, 5, and Essence Karnes, 6, of Niles, show Officer Jeff Warp of the Niles Police Department, dolls at 'Shop with a Cop.' 10 officers and 18 children participated in the event. Each child was given $100 to spend at Target. Photo by Allie Vugrincic

NILES — The toy section in Target inside the Eastwood Mall was bustling with uniformed officers and children pushing shopping carts Tuesday night for the Niles Police Department’s annual “Shop with a Cop” event.

Eighteen children ages 2 to 12 and 10 officers participated in this year’s event. Each child was given an allotment of $100 to spend on anything they wanted at the store.

Officer Kevin Helmick shopped with Junior Creech, 4, Jackson Creech, 5, and Gabe Wright, 9. He said the event helps build a positive relationship with the kids.

“Besides the fact that the youngsters get to get gifts they wouldn’t otherwise get, it also gives them the chance to interact with officers on a non-police level,” Helmick said.

Helmick said some of the kids who come to the event have had negative interactions with cops before, and “Shop with a Cop” lets them spend time with officers in a fun environment.

“We’re out here high-fiving the kids and having a good time. This way we can relate to them on their level,” he said.

According to Helmick, the event has been going on for more than 20 years. He said the department had to take a few years off because they didn’t have the funds to put on the event, but last year they started up again.

In the past, donations have come primarily from the FOP, but the last two years, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and its pastor, Father John Michael Lavelle have made generous donations.

Since last year, the event has been open to the families of veterans, in addition to families in need. Helmick said he hopes this will continue.

On Wednesday, the Kinsman Police Department took a group of children shopping at Dollar General, Ace Hardware and Cope Farm Equipment as part of their “Shop with a Cop.”

Lordstown Police Department, Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and Trumbull South police departments also have held recent shopping events.