It's a simple idea that started when members of the Portland Police Bureau, folks from community organizations, and neighbors were all attending a Lents and Brentwood-Darlington 'Weed and Seed Program' meeting nine years ago.
'Shop with a Cop' is what they called it.
'We were looking for a way to bring all the community together, and bring law enforcement and kids together to do something good,' recalled the founding cop of Portland's 'Shop with a Cop' program, who was a patrol officer at the time. Even though he's now the East Precinct night lieutenant with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), Lt. Larry Graham says he's glad he can continue working with this program.
'The idea, at the time, was to get a little bit of grant money to start the program,' Graham said, 'Hoping that we would find a way to keep it going. We've been fortunate in the past, partnering with many different community organizations and donors. Now, with the PPB Sunshine Division supporting the program, and with Fred Meyer continuing to stand with us, the program has become sustainable.'
During the August 24th shopping event at the Fred Meyer Johnson Creek store, Graham revealed that the PPB Sunshine Division contributed $22,000 and Fred Meyer contributed $10,000, plus provided discounts up to 70% off on clearance items for the kids. 'The kids will be able to get a lot for the money,' smiled Graham.
The 212 kids taken shopping both by sworn and non-sworn staff of the Police Bureau, as well as by folks from the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office and other volunteers, were selected from among those attending Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Portland.
'These kids aren't getting a hand-out,' Graham pointed out. 'They have all done volunteer work to earn a spot here this morning.'
Amy Jacobs, Fred Meyer Director of Financial Services - she helped Graham start 'Shop with a Cop' - had three words to describe her feelings about this particular morning: 'I love it.'
Although her duties have increased, and now works in the corporate office in the Brooklyn neighborhood, Jacobs describes the annual shopping spree as, 'Very near and dear to my heart. I'm thrilled to help make a positive impact on over 200 kids. With this year's total budget of $32,000 we'll be able to clothe these children from head-to-toe - making this their best ever back-to-school adventure.'
Portland Police Bureau Chief Mike Reese smiled and waved, as cops paired up with kids to begin their shopping session. 'I'm here to thank the officers and talk to the kids. As a board member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland, I want them to know how much I support this event. It's a great way to bring police officers into contact with these kids in a very positive manner.'
All the officers who come year after year, Reese observed, are volunteering their time. 'Some of them are just coming off a night shift after working 10 hours; others are about to start a 10 hour day. I appreciate the time our officers are giving here.'
In the store, we caught up with PPB Youth Services Division Sgt. Greg Pashley, a Reed Neighborhood resident, who was shopping with his two energetic charges, Elijah and Adam.
'The best part, for me,' Pashley said, 'Is that shopping with these kids is fun. I don't how many years I've done this. But, every year, I listen to their enthusiasm, as together we get them ready for the beginning of the school year.'
Eager to share his view of the event, Elijah said, 'It's pretty awesome! He's helping me pick out clothes I need for school. I can get prepared to do well in school.'
Adam piped up, 'I think is really cool, because not a lot of people get to shop with a cop. It's a really good opportunity to be here with him. This is a very special day for me. We did work for the community, and got picked to be here. It makes me feel really good.'
Another PPB Youth Services Division Officer, Dave Thoman - he's the school resource officer that serves East Portland, at schools like Franklin High - was working with another pair of kids.
'I'm helping Mnason and Bradon shop,' Thoman told us. 'It's great because now they're all excited - really stoked - about going back to school. Since I work in the schools, I'll run into some of these kids, and get to see them wearing their new clothing to school.'
The value of these kids getting their new school clothing, Thoman said, is a result of their families having difficulty affording to outfit them well for the new school year. 'If you are part of a small group of kids that don't have new clothing, it makes it that much harder to fit in and feel comfortable in the school.
Thoman explained, 'This'll give these guys a chance to feel more comfortable about going back to school and feeling sharp - and impress the ladies, right guys?'
The kids wrinkled up their noses and said, 'Euuw! Girls!'
They all had a good laugh, and headed for the fitting room.
At checkout, Lt. Graham grins as he sees the kids getting ready to leave with their new outfits. 'Instead of being distracted by having raggedy clothes to wear, now they'll be able to focus on excelling and achieving. This is a wonderful day.'