An Eau Claire County sheriff’s office detective took a knee Sunday in the boys’ clothing section of Target to ask his young shopping partner if he needed a new pair of pants.
Another Kids and Cops volunteer suggested a fresh set of pajamas to the boy.
“He prefers to sleep in his underwear,” Detective Don Henning responded with a playful tone. “We just had that discussion.”
Instead, Henning and the boy decided on socks to go along with a couple of T-shirts, sweat pants and a toy laser tag set.
“So he can play with a friend,” Henning said with a grin.
The shopping spree was just one of many during the Eau Claire County sheriff's office’s 26th annual Kids and Cops event that took place Sunday at the Target at 3649 S. Hastings Way.
The program pairs children ages 4 to 11 with law enforcement officers from various Eau Claire County departments.
They take the child shopping for needed items, often clothing or winter wear, and always a toy of their choice. But the event isn’t just about buying items for kids, said Kyle Roder, Eau Claire Police Department public information officer.
“A lot of them have negative interactions with the police,” he said, “and this helps them and helps bridge that divide.”
For 11-year-old Ryleigh agreed, the event offered more than just fresh clothes and a new toy.
“I liked that we got to walk around and pick toys out and meet cops,” he said “We got to talk to them not in a bad way, but a good way.”
This year’s event received about $24,000 in donations to spend on more than 120 kids.
Altoona Family Restaurant donated all of the money from the sales it made Oct. 4, totaling about $14,000. Holiday Vacations provided $10,000 and community members sent in money through a direct mail campaign, said Dianne Hughes, the administrator for the county sheriff’s office who coordinates much of the event.
Hughes reaches out to schools, social services and human services agencies to help recruit children who can benefit from the event. Officers also can refer kids they have had past interactions with.
Parents fill out a confidential sheet the officers use while shopping to help the children buy items they need most.
“Some kids come in and they need everything, and it’s a lot more difficult to stay within the price range,” Roder said. “You get a feel for each kid and how much they really need. You really get to know them in the short time you have with them.”
Up to 45 officers in uniform swarmed the toy and clothing sections of Target Sunday afternoon. More than 60 non-officers volunteered too, including students from UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College.
A young girl skipped as she went to plop a bright blue comforter in her shopping cart.
A few aisles over, Sgt. Dave Riewestahl of Eau Claire County sheriff’s office and a CVTC student huddled next to a 4-year-old as they pointed to several different underwear options.
“And what kinds of pants do you like to wear? I see you’ve got on jeans. Do you like jeans?” Riewestahl asked after the boy decided on “Guardian of the Galaxy”-themed briefs.
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