Normally, when a small army of the men in blue knock on your front door, it isn’t an indication of anything good. In this case, however, it was.
Law enforcement officers dressed in full uniform picked a few lucky kids up from their homes on Saturday in marked police vehicles, and took them shopping at Walmart as part of the second annual “Shop With A Cop” Christmas program.
“We wanted to interact with the community in a positive light,” said one of the volunteers, Sector Juneau U.S. Coast Guard member Lt. j.g. James Dooley. “Not just the enforcement side, which isn’t always the most fun.”
The seven kids from three low-income families, who ranged in age from 6 to 16, shopped for presents for their siblings and parents with money donated by the Alaska Peace Officers Association. City, state and federal law enforcement-related agencies from the Juneau Police Department, Capital City Fire and Rescue, Alaska State Troopers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, to name a few, also contributed funds.
The kids picked out presents for their families, and shopped for ingredients for a Christmas dinner. But unbeknownst to them, officers were buying presents for the children, too. The kids received another surprise Saturday when Santa Claus made a special appearance at Walmart, just for them.
“The kids are it,” Bruce Bowler, who is on the APOA Board of Directors, said when asked why he volunteered his Saturday for the event. “Seeing the smiles on their faces knowing that they were providing a big meal that their family wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and the ability to get presents for their family, and the surprise of getting a present back for themselves, too.”
After the shopping trip was complete, officers went back to the JPD station to gift wrap the presents.
“A couple days before Christmas all these gifts will be delivered to them, so they’ll be able to put them under their tree for Christmas,” said Frank Bonadonna, who coordinated the event this year.
Bonadonna, a special agent with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the law enforcement branch of NOAA, participated in last year’s event, and said it was such a positive experience, he wanted to become even more involved this year. He said the best part of the day is bonding with the kids.
“When we came to their house, they are really apprehensive,” he said. “You knock on the door and there’s like eight cops standing there. Normally that would probably cause some apprehension, but as the next hour or so, there’s this realization that we’re human beings just like they are. I guess watching them gradually warm up to us was really gratifying,” he said.
“Shop With A Cop” began in Juneau last year after an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, Aaron Frenzel, had the idea. He said his old station in Kodiak used to participate in a similar program.
“We had done it in Kodiak when I was there. We had a program similar to this,” he said Saturday. “I came here and talked to APOA, and said, ‘let’s get this going in Juneau.’ It worked out awesome last year, and hopefully it will be the thing to do every year now.”
Any money left over from the shopping spree will be given to local charities, Bonadonna said.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.