By Moses Leos
Buda resident Nicholas Gonzalez had a smile on his face when he chose the first gift he wanted during Saturday’s Buda Blue Santa Shop-With-A-Cop event.
And while the gift he chose, a table tennis set, dwarfed the shopping cart it was supposed to go in, the police officer was more than happy to push it for him.
For Gonzalez, his reason for choosing the tennis table was a simple one. It was to provide his family a Christmas gift they may not have had otherwise. It was similar with the seven other children participating in the Blue Santa program. They wanted something to share.
“It’s because I can share (the tennis table) with my family and play with them,” Gonzalez said.
Buda’s Shop-With-A-Cop program, which completed its fifth installment on Saturday, had seven children team up with Buda Police officers to shop for gifts and toys for them and their families.
Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd said the program is something the department wanted in order to bring “something positive with the kids.”
Kidd had previously worked with Hays County Sheriff’s Office Brown Santa program for 15 years. While he said the program worked, he didn’t believe it reached out to those most in need.
In addition, he said children often didn’t know what they were getting in terms of presents. Kidd opted to have children walk with police officers to gather what they wanted. Participants are given a budget of roughly $150 each to shop for themselves and their families.
“I thought Shop-With-A-Cop would be a better way to do that, to reach out to those most in need,” Kidd said.
After the shopping experience, volunteers pitch in to help wrap the presents and gifts, which are then delivered to the families.
While the kids shopping know what they are getting, Kidd said the importance is to ensure they and their families have the full Christmas experience.
Those selected to Shop-With-A-Cop are referred to Buda Police by councilors at Hays CISD or through a church.
According to Kidd, school councilors are “the best equipped to identify those most in need.”
Kidd talked about a case last year where a student participated after losing a parent in a car accident.
He said the program has led to a variety of “heartbreaking stories” over the years.
It all hit home Saturday for Kidd when he shopped with a pair of siblings whose family had fallen on hard times financially.
Kidd noticed during their shopping experience that the siblings were making their way to the grocery section of the store. While officers were trying to get them to shop in the toy section, it was obvious that they were looking to gather food for their family.
“When a kid is thinking about going down a food aisle before the toy aisle, that’s kind of heartbreaking,” Kidd said.
Kidd said the program would help the family by providing a gift certificate to assist in purchasing food.
The program also has an additional benefit, as it helps Buda Police reach out to children and built a positive relationship.
Elizabeth Wilcox, who participated in the program on Saturday, said she had never met a police officer prior to the Shop-With-A-Cop event.
She said she thought police “were going to be mean.”
“I guess my prediction was wrong,” Wilcox said after the event.
Dannia Vences, who also shopped with officers on Saturday, said it was important to shop for her four brothers and mother.
“It was a good time to look for stuff they will be happy with,” Vences said.