LORAIN — Without this year’s Shop with a Cop in Lorain, Celeste Tarrant’s daughters may not have had a Christmas.
While her youngest, Luna, was around the corner with her designated cop, her other daughter, Leeasia, 3, was slowly pedaling a new pink tricycle down the aisle. The family just moved to Lorain from South Dakota.
“We’re here fleeing from domestic violence, and we didn’t have anything. And I had to drop my whole life and come here, so without this program they probably wouldn’t have a really good Christmas, honestly,” Tarrant said.
Saturday was the department’s eighth annual Shop with a Cop, inviting almost
100 kids from across the county to buddy up with an officer and buy whatever they wanted or needed at Walmart.
Organized in collaboration with the Lorain Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 and local law enforcement, co-coordinator Lorain police Officer Jesse Perkins has helped put it together since its inception.
“It’s rewarding,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, calling all these people and getting everything together, but when you see these kids’ faces and they actually get to experience having a Christmas, it’s worth it.”
This year, kids had $175 to spend, with the local FOP and volunteers raising roughly $20,000 for the annual event. More than 80 officers, friends and family volunteered to escort the kids through Walmart, helping them pick out toys and check off their wish lists. Children are chosen based on need, with this year’s group ranging in age from 4 months to 17 years.
“It’s hard. We had almost 350 kids apply this year, and then I’ve got to read every application and figure out who we’re going to take,” Perkins said.
For Lorain police Officer Erin Sugerik, the event is a chance to not only put a smile on kids’ faces, but also to dispel some of the stigma around law enforcement.
“We’re also human, we’re not out there just to get people in trouble,” she said. “We’re good people, so it’s really good to give back to the community and let them see that.”
Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Ray Santiago agreed.
“Anytime we can come out and interact with them in a manner that’s not responding to some sort of tragic or emergent event is an extra benefit,” Ray Santiago said. “Events like these, it’s not work at all. I would do this all day if I could.”
He and his wife, Mallory — who works in Lorain’s city prosecutor’s office — were excited to shop with their two kids, but were surprised by the practicality of their wish lists.
“They do have a couple requests, a couple very responsible choices, with like clothes and hoodies and new winter coats and stuff and a couple fun items, too — some arts and crafts and tools and things like that,” Mallory Santiago said. “So whatever we can fit into the budget, we’re going to do. They more than deserve it.”
After a pizza party and pictures with Santa at Lorain High School, the kids boarded buses and were given a police escort — complete with SWAT’s mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. A two-hour shopping spree ensued, with kids flocking the aisles and cops and volunteers in tow.
Brothers Jose Alicea Jr., 6, and Jayden Alicea, 7, were planning on sharing a light-up scooter, with Jose excited to get home and play with a Spider-Man web slinger.
Elyvia Cofield, 5, was quick to show off her cartful of toys and games.
A large glittery pink package of LOL Surprise! dolls, Don’t Wake Daddy and a couple baby dolls were some of her favorites. Paired with Lorain Officer Craig Payne and his daughter Taylor Szeliga, 19, Elyvia was too excited about her new toys to give much thought to her shopping companions.
For Payne and Szeliga, volunteering for the program is a family tradition that started when Szeliga was 12.
“I look forward to it every year,” Szeliga said. “And I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it this year because I go to college at (Ohio University). I like it because usually we have a little girl and I like taking the little girls and he (Payne) takes the little boys and we just do our thing.”
Payne said, “This whole entire program is amazing. … It just gets bigger and bigger ever year.”