shop cop 2021

Rosalind Mitchell-Sanchez rides on the shoulders of Urbana police Sgt. Mike Cervantes during the Shop with a Cop event Tuesday evening at Blain’s Farm and Fleet in Urbana.

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URBANA — Jennifer Valadez summed up Tuesday’s Shop with a Cop event in Urbana nicely.

“It’s a wonderful thing, not only for the volunteers. Everyone gets something. The kids get to see that cops are great,” said the Urbana woman.

The grandmother of two was grateful for the help she was receiving this holiday season from the Urbana Fraternal Order of Police and Blain’s Farm and Fleet.

Hers was one of about 15 families with more than 35 children that streamed through the aisles of the Urbana store picking out necessities like coats, gloves, hats and boots before moving on to the toys and candy.

Valadez’s grandson Damien Jones, 10, was putting police Chief Bryant Seraphin and helper Maya Hewkin, 16, through their paces.

The cost-conscious Damien commented several times how expensive things were as Hewkin, the daughter of an Urbana police officer father and a probation officer mother, kept track of how much he was spending. With about 10 percent of his budgeted $150 left, Damien eyed a toy gun.

“No guns. Let’s do archery instead,” said Seraphin, a suggestion that might work well on an anti-violence billboard.

After choosing his archery set, Damien was down to $2.64.

“I know where the candy is,” Seraphin said.

“Do you know where to get candy for cheap?” Damien asked, trailing behind the city’s lead law-enforcement officer.

At least one officer was on hand to help every family, and in some cases, the officers brought their families to help.

“This is one of my favorite events,” said Officer Osric Hayes. “A good interaction is what we’re about. Anytime we can do good and be good …”

Hayes, who grew up in Urbana and attended Urbana High School, has been an Urbana officer for four years and served as a sheriff’s deputy in Champaign County for about two years before that. This was his third Christmas shopping event with families who had been referred to the police union by schools, churches and social-service agencies.

Each child was given a $150 budget, said union President Paige Bennett, who was overseeing the delightful chaos.

This was the 30th year for the event, which is as old as some of the younger patrol officers who were volunteering to help. The event was canceled last year due to the uncertainties of the pandemic, so the police union just banked the donations it received for 2020, enabling them to help even more families this year, Bennett said.

Another 17 families with 37 children are scheduled to shop Thursday night with a set of Urbana officers and volunteers.

Lily Mitchell of Urbana said the shopping spree for her 4-year-old daughter “means a lot.”

“This year has been hard for us. We just got out of a difficult situation. I’m really thankful and grateful for this,” she said.

Sgt. Mike Cervantes was helping Mitchell and daughter Rosalina shop for clothes, toys and a faucet. That’s correct. Mitchell was in search of one with a special filter to prevent Rosalina from getting too much fluoride because it’s harmful to her, and she thought Farm and Fleet would be just the place to locate that item.

Sgt. Tim McNaught brought his wife, Rebecca, their three girls and five of their daughters’ friends to help.

“In police work, there’s often a lot of negativity. This is a total positive,” said Rebecca McNaught, running around checking prices. “I love the kids.”

Daughter Laura McNaught and Laura’s friend Brooke Howard, high school juniors, were assisting Kendall Jones, a first-grader, in choosing a coat, hat, gloves, a basketball and a monster truck.

Before shopping, the families and volunteers met up at the National Guard Armory, where they were paired up and bused to the store by First Student. After shopping, they returned to the Armory for pizza, courtesy of Papa John’s.

“We played basketball, volleyball and a lot of tag. They like to run,” said a tired Howard, participating in the volunteer event for the first time. “It makes me happy to see the parents happy.”

“It’s teaching me how other people’s lives are growing up compared to mine,” said Annika McNaught, a freshman.

Hewkin, 16, had a similar reaction to her first Shop With a Cop.

“I’ve grown up hearing about it. It’s really cool. I’m realizing how fortunate I have been. It feels good to see these kids happy,” she said.

Jasmine Jones, mom to Kendall, was surprised late Tuesday afternoon to be selected for the shopping spree when another family had to cancel.

“It’s humbling,” said the teacher’s assistant. “We’re new to Urbana. It’s been a hard year for us.”

The mother of two boys and two girls, ages 4 to 12, was recently released from the hospital.

“I’m so thankful,” she said, even as she wondered aloud about her daughter’s choice of a “Poopalots” doll.

Tamara Painter of Champaign said her boys, 8 and 9, would not have had a Christmas but for the program.

“It’s definitely a miracle. Somebody was watching over these kids,” she said.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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