Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 3, 2012

FOP hopes to host second Shop With a Cop

Tammie Hetzer-Womack
The Independent

ASHLAND — Maybe it’s the decomposing pumpkins on my front stoop. Hard as I try, Christmas spirit wasn’t upon me.

Until Saturday…

I’m no rookie to the Ashland FOP Lodge 3 Shop With a Cop program. It’s a gratifying holiday tradition.

Seeing patrolmen put on a Christmas pageant warms my Grinchy heart with goodwill. They spend $200 on each underprivileged boy and girl — usually on bare-bones buys, like a doll baby, warm woolen coat, slipper socks or shampoo. Children often just say no to personal indulgences and buy presents for Mommy or little brother.

In Christmas aisles at Riverhill Drive Wal-Mart last weekend, you saw Saint Nick’s chivalrous fraternity on valued watch, a super-squad of uniformed men and women playing elves for needy kids.

And, you probably saw me — staving off tears.

Waves of honor and spirit flurry over anyone who witnesses a little princess looking up to a towering prince of a policeman, who wears a polished and pressed navy blue, khaki, black or gray coat of armor.

Sisters Gracie and Abby Sparks, ages 7 and 6, giggled at the gumshoe escapades of Ashland police detectives Richard Bohannon and Gavin Patrick who marshaled the Summit Elementary students around the toy and child clothing departments.

The detectives regarded the precious snow queens like the nobility they are, purchasing them chestnut and black stallion toy horses, Cinderella dolls and pink sequin-blizzard outfits.

“This is just like the North Pole workshop,” bounced Abby, closing her eyes in wondrous imagination. “I think there are toys here…and snow…”

It means the world to the girls’ parents, Melissa and Kenny Sparks, both 29, of Flatwoods. She asked their school for Christmas help. She has a job, yet Mr. Sparks is on disability. Times are tough.

“I make enough to pay the bills. But that’s about it,” she said. “As long as we can see them happy…”

Our community gives openly to this charity, no gun-shyness.

A schoolteacher walked up to city police Sgt. Tim Renfroe in the store’s garden center and offered a $100 bill. A kindly elderly lady emphatically shared five bucks. McDonald’s and KFC fed these babies, while the Supercenter discounted; doled out treats and fruit baskets and unreservedly offered full hearts to this cause, which granted 110 child Christmas wishes. The FOP spent $21,905 at final checkout.

Walmart manager Ann Perry is heaven-sent, acquiring $3,000 in grant funding from her employer’s foundation to help Shop With a Cop. I got to know this sweet lady a few years ago. She’s the angel on top of the tree.

Like Perry — watching alongside with utter Christmas joy — Renfroe, the longtime Shop With a Cop coordinator, welled up. We rarely see lawmen like this.

It’s the same for many youngsters served by Shop With a Cop. Expected run-ins with officers might be an early morning bang on the door. On-the-lamb, Daddy finally got busted. Parents are tussling and police show up to help. Meth lab cooks in the basement.

Toddlers see the police force as the bad guy, from the tiniest age.

Today their brother’s keeper — and big bro is Police Chief Kris Kringle (he prefers milk and cookies to coffee and doughnuts, by the way)...

Santa poses for photos with Fairview preschoolers, merrily arriving for makeshift Christmas Eve. This is sadly the only Christmas visit from the police supervisor in red uniform.

Lodge President Rick Riffe pushes a shopping cart for a large family. He’s simply thankful. Recently an openhanded patron gave him a $1,000 donation for the event.

“That’s five kids,” he breaks down, in black BDUs. “Five kids who will have Christmas.”

Three generations of the Riffe family helped. His mom, Violet Riffe, 87, was a real Mrs. Claus to the jolly old elf, sporting her prettiest Christmas sweater; while wife, Waletta, and daughter, Kara Riffe-Styer, 28, of Huntington, shopped with numerous tots, lending a hand in the holiday rush.

“I found my mini-me,” said Riffe-Styer, adding she knows it’s a Christmas blessing. “There she was. Just like me. We bought a sparkly dress, Hello Kitty shoes, a Barbie you can paint her hair and a salon chair to go along with it. Umm, Monster High…

“So cool. Just like me,” she laughed, her festive, purply hair shining in the store’s fluorescence. “This is how our family starts the holidays.”

That being said, donations are down this year. Trace evidence of struggling economy, joblessness and inability to make ends meet.

The nice list of kids served by Shop With a Cop grew alongside — without endowments to match sleigh-rocketing numbers of children who need aid. Renfroe prays the region will quickly rally with contributions.

FOP telemarketers are continuing to call homes asking for bequests. To learn more or drop off a donation to Ashland FOP Lodge 3 Shop With a Cop, call (606) 325-8494.