(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It's a week before Christmas and he's checking his list -- but dressed in blue, not red. And his helper isn't an elf but a student from the Sikeston Seventh and Eighth Grade Center with a grin a mile wide.
School Resource Officer Joey Henry of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety and his student shopping partner, one of four teams, are cruising the aisles at the Sikeston Wal-Mart on a mission to make a disadvantaged family's Christmas a little merrier thanks to a new "Shop With a Cop" program.
"I have a four-year-old brother and a five-year-old brother," said one of the student shoppers as she made her way to the boys' clothing section.
"You can get something for yourself, too," Henry reminded his shopping partner as he picked out a shirt for his brother.
"I want some shoes, some clothes," said another another of the students as he planned his purchases. "I've got to think about this. They've got a lot of good stuff. I like Wal-Mart."
Also shopping with students Monday were Daniel Adams, SRO and D.A.R.E. officer, Housing Authority Officer Shannon Keller and SRO Ryan Dennis.
"This is the first year for this and hopefully it will be the start of a tradition," said Adams.
Monday's "Shop With a Cop" trip was organized by Steve Bays, eighth grade principal at the Sikeston Seventh and Eighth Grade Center.
Bays said he didn't think up the idea, however, but borrowed it from Mineral Area schools near Farmington.
The program has a two-fold purpose. Not only are four needy families receiving some help during the Christmas season, but by having the students shop alongside law enforcement officers, "they got to look at them in a different perspective."
One of the student shoppers was at first concerned he might be in trouble for something until he was filled in about the day's events -- after which the excitement and joy was as plain as the smile on his face.
Shopping money was initially raised by the teaching staff at the Seventh and Eighth Grade Center.
"We have 'Dollar for Denim' days where teachers on Fridays can wear jeans and school colors -- red or black," Bays said, "They donate a dollar for the privilege. It's totally voluntary ... we're proud of our teachers for stepping up."
Added to this was a $200 donation from the local Elks Lodge. "We are very appreciative," Bays said. "They did help us reach our goal so we could help as many kids as we could."
In addition to DPS officers, students were also joined by some the Seventh and Eighth Grade Center's staff: teachers Sondra Meadows and Jennifer Vandeven; Jeanne Anne Sullivan, seventh grade principal; and Brett Blackman, counselor.
"I think it's awesome myself," Meadows said. "This is my first time shopping with a cop; I'm impressed."
With any luck and some help from the community, it won't be last.
"We'd like to make this an annual event if possible and hopefully get some more involvement," Bays said. "We'll see how this one goes and hopefully next year it will be even bigger."
Henry said DPS school resource officers would also like to see the shopping trip become an annual event and are planning to do some car washes this summer and other fundraisers to expand the program next year and include even more families.
"I think it's a good thing -- an excellent thing," Henry said. "It helps a lot of the kids."