Nashville Police Officer John Thompson stood in the middle of the girls clothing department at Walmart in Columbus with a pair of black and pink slippers in hand.
“All right sweetheart, try this on for me,” he said to Emmah Reeves, 7.
But she was a little hesitant to take her shoes off to try another pair — again.
“You gotta try them on make sure they fit. Otherwise, you can’t get them, you see?” Thompson said as he slipped the soft shoes onto her little feet.
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They fit just right. Thompson added the newest addition to Emmah’s wardrobe on his list, which he was checking twice.
“We’re down to $4. We gotta find something for four bucks. We’re going to get everything we can for the max amount we can possibly get,” he said to the small girl with the big smile.
“I tell you what, we’ll say you have an even $5. How’s that sound? That way, you can get two things that are $2.50 or we can get one thing that’s for $5, or whatever it is that you want, hon’.”
Emmah headed to a nearby display and picked out a white, glittery ribbon ponytail holder that costs $2.50.
“Hey, that leaves us with another $2.50,” Thompson said.
Up for the challenge, Emmah returned with a headband.
“That’s $2?” he asked.
“Three dollars,” she answered quietly.
“Three dollars? OK, we’ll go with that. Then you are completely done. You tapped me out, girlfriend, which is all right with me. I’m OK with that,” he said with a grin.
For seven years, officers of the Nashville Police Department, aided by the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and volunteers, have taken local children on shopping trips for clothing, toys and other necessities before Christmas.
Each officer has list of clothing and sizes along with other items the child needs. For Emmah and her 5-year-old sister, Hannah, snow boots were on their lists.
They picked out glittery ones.
“They chose what they wanted. It’s not my style, but I don’t have to wear them,” Thompson said.
The shopping trip is funded by donations collected throughout the year. Brown County 4-H Fair visitors were charged $1 for parking this summer, and the money was split between the Brown County 4-H Fair Board and the Nashville Police Department’s reserve division.Shop With a Cop got a cut of the police department’s share.Along with donations specifically for Shop With a Cop, the total was enough for 85 children to get $150 each for their Dec. 12 shopping trip.
“There’s so many families that can’t afford to buy so much stuff for their kids. We try to help them out the best way that we can,” Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said.
Since the Salvation Army hosted its toy drive the same day as Shop With a Cop, children only bought clothing at Walmart and were encouraged to pick up toys at the toy drive after they were done shopping.
Officers were paired with one child this year.
“It’s much easier to keep one herded than it is three or four. And we get to spend a lot more time interacting,” Sheriff Scott Southerland said as he followed 5-year-old Floyd Ford through Walmart.
Floyd loves Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Minions and Star Wars. A Batman shirt, Batman pajamas and a Minion hat and jacket were a few of his first picks.
“We’ve got two Minions and one Batman. What about the turtles?” Southerland asked, walking to the shoe department.
Floyd tried on a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle slip-on shoes. They landed in the shopping cart, which was filling quickly.
“We have a plan. He’s going to tell me what he likes. I’m going to find the right size and keep track,” Southerland said. “We’re going to shop until we drop.”
Thompson has been with the Nashville Police Department for six months. He worked as a police officer in Columbus before coming to Nashville, so this was not his first time participating in Shop With a Cop.“Being able to interact with the kids and making sure they’re aware that we are the good guys and that we are here to help them even in times of not-so-good moments,” Thompson said about his favorite part of the program. “We’re still good; we’re still here to help. We want them to have a great Christmas.”
Thompson also enjoys watching the children pick out exactly what they want.
“They get to have that sense of freedom and to get away from Mom and Dad and get to spend money. … Just seeing the joy of, ‘This is all mine. I picked out all of this.’”
Nashville Police Officer Brian Shrader was shopping with 7-year-old Dalton Lucas, who is a fan of Indiana University.
“How’s that? Do you like that?” Shrader said to Dalton as he tried on a white IU hoodie.
“All right, let’s get that,” Shrader said as he helped the quiet boy out of the sweatshirt.
Shrader made a mark on his list and added up the items.
“All right, we have $40 left. Is there anything else you can think of? We got you some warm clothes. What about some T-shirts? You don’t have any T-shirts (in the cart),” Shrader said, pushing on.
Dalton’s favorite color is orange. His favorite part of the day was picking out a new orange coat; he even bought orange tennis shoes to match.
“Seeing them afterwards, they know me. They recognize you. I think that’s pretty cool,” Shrader said of his favorite part of Shop With a Cop.
“That’s what the program is designed for. It’s not just people taking kids shopping; it’s police taking kids shopping so that they get to know us and recognize us.
“Not everybody likes police nowadays. We’re not the bad guys, but we can be, but we’re not. We’re here for them.”