By MARINA WATERS
This time of year, most people shop with family and friends. But for some local boys and girls, they’re going to be shopping with a police officer or a firefighter in Tennessee’s oldest town.
Tonight, Jonesborough’s annual Shop with a Cop event will provide 73 children from around the area with a chance to receive gifts and get to know local police officers as well.
However, these kids’ families will also experience a bit of this holiday cheer. Not only are the children given already donated gifts as well as toys bought with a $150 gift card from Walmart the night of the event, but the child’s siblings are given gifts as well.
The Shop with a Cop event also provides gifts for parents to put under the tree for kids to open on Christmas.
“Some of these folks are going through a tough time,” Jonesborough’s Shop with a Cop event coordinator Sgt. Jamie Aistrop said. “And we want to make sure they have a positive holiday experience and make sure they have some gifts to open on Christmas morning regardless. That warms our hearts.”
The police and fire departments aren’t the only ones helping with the event; from wrapping gifts to providing a meal for the kids, local businesses and individuals such as the members of the Jonesborough Senior Center have sacrificed their time and money to help with the event.
“The Jonesborough community in general is just very giving,” Aistrop said. “Anytime, they’re always ready to rally around and help.”
This giving Christmas spirit doesn’t stop with the donors and volunteers, though. Aistrop said many of the kids chosen by their schools’ teachers and guidance counselors use their Walmart gift card for their family rather than for gifts for themselves.
“It really humbles you to see how appreciative these kids are and the things that they buy,” Aistrop said, “and how selfless they all are. You’d think they’d all just wanna go buy $150 worth of toys, but a lot of these are going in to buy presents for their brothers and sisters and parents and spending more of their money on their families than they do themselves.”
Though the Shop with a Cop event has provided families in the Jonesborough area with toys and other gifts for eight years now, local law enforcers take this chance to do more than just sneak a gift under the tree like old Saint Nick. Aistrop said they hope to promote positivity towards police officers to these young kids.
“Police and fire aren’t always dealing with everybody in a positive light,” Aistrop said. “Generally, when either one of us are called, there’s a problem. So it’s a really good opportunity to spend time with them in a positive manner and show them that all interaction with police and fire doesn’t have to be negative.”
In return, these officers are left with a gift from these children—but it doesn’t come in a box or a bag.
“It’s just as good for us if not better for us than it is for the kids, “ Aistrop said. “It’s a good break. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
“Just seeing the look on their faces when we escort them to Walmart, actually getting to sit down, talk to them and interact with the kids—it’d be hard for me to narrow it down to a favorite part.”
In Aistrop’s experience, overall, both kids and officers are doing more than just exchanging gifts—they’re building relationships.
“We made some really good relationships over the years with these families and these children,” Aistrop said. “There’s several that we still talk to and have moved on and don’t need the assistance anymore, but we still keep in contact with them. Once we meet these kids and spend that evening with them, that carries on for years. We make lifelong friends with them and that’s kind of the point. They remember it, we definitely remember it, and it helps us down the road in future situations.”
Major sponsors for the Shop with a Cop event include:
Kiwanis of Jonesborough
Clark Family Tours
Shirt Tail Designs
And many other area businesses, churches, and residents.
Pizza party donations were provided by:
Jonesboro Pizza Parlor