With less than a week to go before Christmas, I thought it would be the perfect time to tell you about a heartwarming initiative that has been running in HRM for seven years now. CopShop is a partnership between Halifax Regional Police (HRP) and Halifax Shopping Centre. Each year, more than 50 officers become personal shoppers for 50 kids, who are given $200 gift cards, as they purchase gifts for themselves and their families. The best way to tell you the story is through the eyes of a participant. Lauren Leal, HRP’s communications advisor and social media czar graciously agreed to share her first experience with CopShop.
“Looking through the photos taken at this year’s CopShop, I can’t help but be drawn to one in particular. It’s a quickly snapped, slightly out of focus photo of me, Cst. Donnie Jenkins and easily one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met. All three of us are beaming. Mine and Cst. Jenkins’ hands are full of parcels, the contents of which were carefully selected by MacKenzie, one of the 50 children picked by HRP and Halifax Shopping Centre to take part. A sign hanging behind the Cinnabon Counter aptly reads “Share the love.” It’s perfect.
I started with Halifax Regional Police almost one year ago. Over the past several months, I’ve met countless officers as they’ve made their way through police headquarters on Gottingen Street. The majority of these encounters have involved short conversations consisting mostly of small talk. It’s difficult in this type of environment to get to know people well… to get a real sense of their true personalities. This is why I was so excited to drop by the CopShop event to take photos for our employee newsletter and Facebook and Twitter pages. I’d heard from my colleagues about how amazing the event is, how much the kids and the officers enjoy the experience, and the all-round sense of community that it invokes. I was expecting big things from our officers.
I circled the perimeter of the area that had been roped off for the event. Many of the officers were wearing a wide array of holiday hats; Santa hats, elf hats, Frosty the Snowman hats, and so on. Some opted for tacky holiday ties. I noticed one boy zero in on a K-9 officer who was sporting a unique camouflage Santa hat that stood straight up on its own. I watched as he made his way over to the officer before finally working up the nerve to tap him on the arm and sweetly say, “I like your hat.” Later, I asked the same boy what he wanted to buy with his gift certificate. He quickly whipped out his list and read the contents. Almost half of the items on the list were for his brother. The day was full of these simple, beautiful moments.
I continued to snap photos of officers and kids laughing and eating pizza together before tackling their shopping lists. I was particularly struck by the officers who focused their attention on the shy kids sitting by themselves. Having been a shy kid myself (and often shy adult), I knew just how much the gesture meant. I bumped into Cst. Donnie Jenkins, one of the main organizers of the event, as he was making his way to announce the child/officer pairings. For anyone who hasn’t met him, Cst. Jenkins is a ball of energy and enthusiasm. And this is putting it mildly. He absolutely loves being a cop, and CopShop is hands down his favourite HRP event. So of course I couldn’t refuse his offer to tag along as he and his shopping partner hit the stores.
Sport Chek was the first stop. Each child was able to pick out a new winter jacket, compliments of the store. I watched as smiling officers followed behind “their” kids asking, “What colour do you like? What size are we looking for? How about this one?” It was amazing. I heard later that a man who had been shopping in the store asked what the officers and children were doing. After the premise of CopShop was explained, he bought a $100 gift card and slipped it to one of the kids.
The two hours flew by. We bumped into countless officers and their shopping partners as we made our way from store to store. Everyone – the mall staff, officers, onlookers, and most importantly, the kids – were so joyful. I kept thinking to myself, “What a gift to be part of such a great day.”
When we were confident that MacKenzie had found everything on her list, we made our way to Cinnabon for a treat. And that’s where my story comes full circle. I’d only intended to stop by to take a few photos, but ended up staying to be part of something really special. I saw the officers I work with in a new, incredible light. I got to play a small part in a wonderful day for a fantastic kid. I can’t wait for next year.”
Thanks for sharing that great story, Lauren. I must admit, each year I had the opportunity to participate in Cop Shop left me with a tear in my eye. It’s great to see the faces of the kids light up, particularly when they are beaming with pride as they buy a gift for a sibling or parent with money they could easily be spending on themselves. It’s also great to see amazing corporate citizens like Halifax Shopping Centre stepping up to make a difference in our community.