Making Christmas memories |

Making Christmas memories

Melanie Wong
Norma Camunez and Jessica Mayes assist a local child with choosing a Christmas present for her sister in Avon on Friday. Many Vail and Avon police employees participated in the 14th annual Shop with a Cop program that takes lower-income kids Christmas shopping for their families with donated money.
Charles Townsend Bessent | |

AVON — Kiera’s shopping cart wasn’t full of the typical items you’d expect for an 8-year-old kid — a big crockpot and some men’s socks. Her next purchase, however, was going to be in the toy aisle. She carefully examined Happy’s Pet Plushes, electronic stuffed animals that do tricks and dance, for her sister.

Vail Police Officer Nicola Erb pushed the cart and helped Kiera pick out a kitten toy for herself and one for her sister. The shopping trip was part of Shop with a Cop, an annual program that pairs local police staff with kids in the community. They’re armed with donated funds to help the children purchase gifts for their family and choose something for themselves.

This year, 31 elementary kids from Avon and Vail participated, with $100 each. They were paired with police staff from the Avon and Vail police departments for a Walmart shopping spree, followed by a dinner and gift-wrapping party provided by the Four Seasons in Vail.

“It’s a national program, and in Vail we’re in our 14th year,” said Moses Gonzales, a Vail code enforcement officer who has been heading up Vail’s Shop with a Cop program his entire time on the force. “This is our biggest year so far. We had more than $3,100 and 31 kids. We also included the Avon Police Department this year. Maybe next year we’ll be able to include the Eagle Police. I know there are other kids in the valley who could benefit from this.”

At Walmart, Jahanny, 8, was busy shopping for her grandmother, mom, two sisters and little brother. She tapped on the sleeve of a Vail police officer who was busy helping another child.

“Hi Police, look how much stuff we got!” she said proudly.

She squealed and jumped when her “cop shopper” placed a Barbie Dream House set in the cart.

“Is that for me?” she asked.

Gonzales said that when the program started out, the department invited kids from the most economically depressed families to participate. However, they soon found that those families were often receiving significant assistance.

“However, we found there was a middle class of kids who didn’t qualify for assistance, but the family was trying to make ends meet,” he said. “We’ve kind of switched the focus over to kids like that in recent years.”

Shop with a Cop is made possible entirely by donations from community businesses and individuals.

Mark Hallenbeck, of Vail, is a contributor to Shop with a Cop and in past years has even volunteered to be a shopper.

“I’ve contributed the last several years because it’s such a great thing they do for the community,” Hallenbeck said. “It’s about sharing and picking out a present for a friend or family member, and then yourself. I think it helps in getting them to think that it’s not just about themselves, but about everyone else.”

The program has brought lasting memories for both the children involved and the police department shoppers. Hallenbeck remembers shopping with a little girl who had recently lost a parent. Gonzales said one year, two sisters pooled their money together to buy their mom a much-needed microwave.

“Years from when we first started (the program), I’ll walk around downtown and all of a sudden a kid in high school or older runs up to me and says, ‘Remember me? You took me shopping with a cop. That was the greatest thing,’” Gonzales said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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