For the last 21 years, the annual Shop With a Cop Program on the Big Island has been the Christmas community event 50 at-risk youth on the Big Island look forward to — being teamed up with officers from the Hawaii Police Department for an unforgettable holiday shopping spree at Target.
Organized by Catholic Charities Hawaii, the program offers each selected child a $100 Target gift card during the holidays as a way to build positive relationships with law enforcement while shopping for meaningful gifts just before Christmas.
However, a few weeks ago Catholic Charities Hawaii reached out to Franz Weber with some sad news.
“Erin Basque from Catholic Charities contacted me and said that the Shop With a Cop event would most likely need to be canceled this year,” Weber said. “They get most of their funding through the Charity Walk, which didn’t happen this year due to COVID-19.
“In the past, they allocated $5,000 to give 50 children a $100 Target gift card to go shopping with a police officer. These children are selected as the most deserving and the ones that need it most. But this year, only $1,000 was available.”
As most of you already know, Weber, a community sports enthusiast, volunteer extraordinaire, and avid cyclist created and founded Paying It Forward West Hawaii earlier this year. The non-profit organization is designed to provide a platform to help raise funds and have it readily available to offer immediate assistance to any child in need, regardless of the situation.
Since the start of his non-profit, Weber has received an on-going flow of inquiries for assistance — from purchasing Chromebooks and clothing, to child car seats and wheelchairs, to school supplies and nutritious snacks for the children of Kahaluu Housing Project. Weber says Paying It Forward is all about “helping to improve the lives of children, one child at a time.”
Upon hearing the sad news, Weber said his initial reaction was, “No, I can’t let this happen.”
The 66-year old Kailua-Kona resident immediately put on his Santa’s hat and went to work. Within five days, Weber successfully secured donation commitments from community organizations that would help to fund this year’s Shop With a Cop Program. The Catholic Charities Hawaii program is now set to continue its 22nd annual event on Dec. 18.
“There is always a way, you just have to find it,” he said. “I see myself just as a facilitator — getting all the good people with good intentions together. All you have to do is ask and people want to give.”
Weber said he has received $1,000 from Ironman through their Underpants Run Charity, $1,000 from a German non-profit, TransFAIRiert eV, $900 in individual donations from people who viewed Weber’s Facebook post, $500 from the Kona Ballroom Dance Club, and $500 from Weber’s personal birthday Facebook fundraiser. In the coming days, Weber will also find out if he will receive an additional $1,000 through a grant for foster children.
Weber’s childhood experience
Weber’s passion to help challenged youth runs deep. He personally experienced what it feels like to be the child considered “at-risk.”
“I spent six years going to a boarding school in Germany that was primarily for challenged children,” Weber explained. “It was a school for children who had lost one or both parents, or whose parents were divorced but didn’t want to keep their children, or those who had trouble in school, or for kids who had authority issues.
“My mother had died in a car accident when I was 12 years old and my father had remarried. His new wife didn’t want to deal with a child from a previous marriage. So, I was placed in a boarding school for challenged children for six years, until I was 18.”
Weber said that while in boarding school, he was too young to understand that it wasn’t a pleasant place to be. But now looking back at his childhood, Weber can relate to youth who are in a difficult situation, to those deemed “at-risk,” and understands the importance of children knowing they are loved and belong.
“I never thought of how it ties back to my upbringing until a few years ago,” he said. “But I have learned that love is everything. So, if you have someone who cares, someone who gives a damn about what happens to you, and someone who doesn’t put their own priorities first — but you, it makes a huge difference.
“When you experience that at a young age you will never forget it, you will cherish that for a lifetime. Being able to make a difference to someone at a young age and showing them that they are important, that they are someone who people care about can really impact them forever.”
Weber said the feeling can be overwhelming when he sees the how the community jumps to action to help a child in need. Especially now, amid a pandemic that has hit Hawaii hard.
“You just have to ask, and people want to give,” he said. “We live in a great community and when there is a need, everyone steps up. If they see a cause and if they are able to help, they are thrilled to do so. It’s so amazing.”
With Catholic Charities Hawaii set to organize the 22nd annual Shop With a Cop on Dec. 18 for 50 selected children, donations are still being accepted.
“This is one of the few opportunities for each child to feel like, ‘Hey — I have money now and I can make a decision on my own on how it will be spent,’” Weber said. “This will be an experience the child has never had before.”
Donations for this year’s Shop With a Cop can made to Weber’s Paying It Forward West Hawaii nonprofit at https://fim20209.wixsite.com/pif-wh. Franz Weber can also be reached via his email at email@example.com.