Seligman police set sights on presents
Shop with a Cop funded by local donations
For the last five years, Seligman police officers have been taking children shopping, more specifically -- Christmas shopping.
The Shop With a Cop program began when former Officer Randy Calbaugh and current Barry County deputy suggested it.
"It was something we did in Kansas City when I worked in Clay County," Calbaugh said. "They did it for many years. It was aimed for the underprivileged or single parents that couldn't afford to get Christmas presents.
"It's something I wanted to do to give back to the community, but also to help kids see the other side of law enforcement, that we're not bad people that arrest you and take you to jail, but are here for them as well. I'm really happy to hear that since I left in 2011, Seligman kept doing it. It was the plan to grow each year and I understand it has."
The program took off, based on one large donation.
"L.B. Corn was first one I talked to about it," Calbaugh said. "He gave a generous donation. We just went around and started getting donations from other businesses, and it grew from there."
Calbaugh said children who might otherwise not get presents get to go on a personal shopping spree and choose whatever they want, based on donations received. The best part of being involved with the program, he said, was the smiles and getting a glimpse of the children's hearts.
"Seeing a smile on the kids' faces when they got something and that they could give away for a gift was the best part," he said. "It was extremely neat to see how big their hearts were. You have a child who doesn't get very many presents for themselves, and the first thing they want to do is get something for their mom, dad or brothers or sisters. It was all for the children and, we were able to do that."
For Seligman Police Chief Terry Burgess, who is in his second year of coordinating the program, watching the children shop is his favorite part.
"We had a blast last year," said Burgess. "[The children] go through the store, and depending on how much we raise, get to pick out whatever they want. We took 18 kids last year, had four officers and spent about five hours in the Cassville Walmart. First, they got lunch at Subway, then we make sure they have a winter coat. Once that's taken care of, the rest of the shopping is at their sole discretion."
The children get about an hour to shop, and Burgess said last year, children received about $220 each to spend on whatever they wanted, thanks to donations from the community.
"Last year was the biggest year we've ever had," he said. "We raised about $4,000, and I'd like to beat that this year. We had kids who bought power tools, pellet rifles and bikes, and one got a laptop. It's a lot of fun and lets these kids, who may get very little if anything, pick out literally anything they wanted. I had kids who, maybe their brother or sister didn't get picked for the program, and they got something for them."
The timeframe to nominate a child is Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. Nominations can be made by a parent or others.
"It pertains to children from the Seligman community because this is the community we serve," he said. "We know a lot of people and based on the recommendations we receive, we pretty well know what's going on. Parents do not have to provide income. It's need-driven and case-by-case. It's for children from ages 3-12."
The tentative date to shop is Dec. 13. After children are selected, Burgess contacts everyone and schedules shopping times.
Burgess is asking businesses and individuals to donate to make the program a success for children.
"We need help from the community to make it happen," he said. "We have an account at Freedom Bank in Seligman and Cassville, and donations can be made to the Shop With a Cop account. Any business and any individual can donate. A lot of donations last year came from the Seligman community, but certainly not all of them. Hopefully, we raise a good amount of money. It's a good program."
Burgess also applied for a community grant from the Seligman Neighborhood Walmart and Cassville Walmart.
"The store manager decides whether to approve it, but it's part of Walmart giving back to the community," he said.
"Each store is allotted so much money to divide up in the community for events all year," said Seligman Neighborhood Market Store Manager Ben Stoerger, who said Walmart tentatively approved a $2,500 grant Burgess applied for.
"We dedicate a register just for that special cause every year so the kids don't have to wait in line," said Cassville Walmart Assistant Manager Holly Bradley, who said that the community grant at the Cassville Walmart was still pending.
In addition to giving children Christmas gifts, there is another type of gift in the program.
"The purpose is take care of the children, create a bond between the police department and community we serve, and show children we're here for them," Burgess said. "We're about more than just showing up to their house when things go wrong. It affects the officers just as much as the children and parents because they see that we're still part of the community.
"Also, it's really nice for officers to get to deal with people on a good day. We get to interact with people all the time but not at this level of community. So it's a great opportunity to show the public that's its not all about taking people to jail and writing tickets, but that we do care about this community."
Burgess, a father himself, said he can relate to parents at Christmas time.
"If I was in a position where I was down and out, a program like this would be awesome," he said. "If someone wants to nominate a child because they know that child is not going to have a good Christmas, they can do that and do not have to identify themselves.
"And, if a parent knows they are not going to be in a position to provide presents, they can fill out the form because it's going to come down to me and some others to figure out what we can and try to make the best decision."
This year, Burgess hopes to reach even more children.
"I'm hoping to take 20-plus kids shopping," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of kids have had to do without. This program benefits children and they're the future. And they will always have that childhood memory."
To nominate a child or make donations, individuals or businesses can pick up a form at city hall, or call Burgess at 417-342-8462, call or visit Eggleston Trade and Pawn in Seligman at 417-662-3000, or email Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Deadline is Nov. 30.