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Shop With a Cop brings Christmas smiles

Ten-year-old Mykaylaen Johnson, left, and Alex Johnson, 5, had an opportunity to buy Christmas Toys at K-Mart Thursday with Patrolman Lakesha Bryant of the Albany Police Dept. Shop With a Cop is sponsored by the Albany Fraternal Order of Police and is designed to provide underprivileged children with toys for Christmas and to upgrade the image of the police force.

Ten-year-old Mykaylaen Johnson, left, and Alex Johnson, 5, had an opportunity to buy Christmas Toys at K-Mart Thursday with Patrolman Lakesha Bryant of the Albany Police Dept. Shop With a Cop is sponsored by the Albany Fraternal Order of Police and is designed to provide underprivileged children with toys for Christmas and to upgrade the image of the police force.

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was neither doughnuts nor a crime scene that brought about 30 of the Albany's finest to the Kmart on Dawson Road. It was the kids -- more than 100 of them, lined up to be paired with their personal "cop" and shopping cart -- ready for a journey through toyland.

Thursday was "Shop With a Cop" day, a longstanding annual program of the Albany Fraternal Order of Police designed to provide toys for underprivileged kids and to create a little "one-on-one" time with police officers.

"It's a chance for them to see the officers in a more positive light," said Capt. Tracey Barnes of the Albany Police Department. "A lot of the time these kids just see them when something bad happens. This is a more positive mode."

Barnes serves on the board of FOB Lodge No. 2 as well and has participated in about 15 Shop With a Cop days, he said.

Ptl. Lakesha Bryant was there for the first time, she said, enjoying every minute.

"I just want kids to have a wonderful Christmas experience," Bryant said. "It's such a delight being a child on Christmas morning and opening up your presents. I'm really excited because I don't have children of my own."

Phyllis Banks, APD spokesman, said all the participating officers volunteered for the event, arriving in uniform on their days off or even coming straight from the night shift. Some of the officers from Albany State University took part as well.

"We're glad we could serve as many children as we have today," Banks said. "We want the community to have a great perception of us and know they can turn to us for whatever assistance they may need."

Chuck Simpson, a retired police officer and president of FOP No. 2, said the final count for kids signed on was 108, with 29 officers participating. According to Simpson, needy families with children are located through any number of sources, including churches. Twice each year, an independent company is contracted to solicit contributions for the event. The amount allowed for each participant is set by the child's age and how much money is available. It was $3,200 this year, Simpson said, with Kmart kicking in another $300 and $200 more coming out of Simpson's pocket.

"It's not a big deal," Simpson said. "Children age two and under aren't supposed to get anything, but some of them arrive with big brother or sister. We hate for them to be left out."