KAILUA-KONA — Target had yet to officially open its doors this early on a Saturday morning, but already the aisles were buzzing with dozens of children.
And right alongside them, often pushing the cart or helping reach the highest shelf, was a member of local law enforcement, smiling and talking to them as they together hunted for the perfect toy.
“This really is about a community of hope,” said Erin Basque, program administrator for Catholic Charities Hawaii, “people and children coming together to bridge relationships with the police officers.”
Saturday marked the 20th year of Shop with a Cop, which gave children the opportunity to go on a shopping trip with officers and deputies from the Hawaii Police Department, Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the National Park Service.
Each of the 50 children received a $100 gift card donated by Catholic Charities Hawaii, which they could use to shop throughout the store.
The Christopher Camero Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122 Auxiliary also donated $1,000 in gift cards for officers to use to supplement the original gift card if a purchase exceeded $100.
“I think it’s really super awesome,” Jan Kuivenhoven, who was at Shop With a Cop with her grandchildren and their mother, said of the event.
Kuivenhoven said she thinks it’s great that kids have a chance to spend some time with someone in law enforcement and forge a positive connection, saying families can often be otherwise timid around law enforcement.
“So for the kids to actually get a different connection with the officer is, I feel, really, really important,” she said, “and also for the families to see the officers like this, too.”
Basque said they reached out to local schools and the community to identify kids to participate.
This was the first year the event has been hosted at Target, which also provided a breakfast. Previously, the event has been held at Kmart, which closed earlier this year.
Nicole Mailhot, executive of human resources at Target, said they were “super humbled” to be able to take part in a community event like this.
“At Target, it’s really all about bringing joy to all families, and so this really speaks to our mission statement,” she said. “And especially in Kona, we work really hard here to see people smile, to see the kids be happy and foster those positive relationships in the community.”
This was the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122 Auxiliary’s second year participating in Shop With a Cop. President Tracy Bennedsen said they’re proud to be among the organizations helping.
“It was really rewarding last year to see all those kids and how happy they were,” she said.
It’s not only the kids who look forward to their shopping spree.
“I’m super excited,” said Hawaii Police Department community policing Sgt. Joseph Stender Jr., who came out for his first time. “I’ve been wanting to come to one of these for so long.”
It’s also, he said, great to see kids not only get gifts for themselves, but also look to get something for their own family members.
“That’s pretty awesome to see that our children in our community are so giving,” he said. “They’re looking to make other people happy. Even though this event is supposed to be for them, they’re also thinking about other people, which is awesome to see, to see our keiki in our community feeling that way.”
Kuivenhoven’s grandson, Hayden Van Velsor, was another who said he enjoyed participating in the event.
“It was like fun and interesting, because I’ve never shopped with a cop before,” he said. “I’ve never done it, so it was cool.”
Kahale Colburn, who was at the event with her family, said the program is an opportunity to let children know that police are in the community to help. She said it’s nice to see kids and police officers interact with each other, and events like this let kids know that they’re safe.
“Because they build that relationship with the police officer,” she said, “knowing that these people in uniforms are not bad, that they’re here to help.”