Debate extending to D.C. versus Marvel comics dominated one of many conversations Buda Police officer Connor Fleming had with Ulysses, a Buda area elementary student, in the Buda Walmart Saturday.
The friendly discussions helped the two connect as they perused the toy aisles looking for the right gifts for Ulysses’ family.
For Fleming and many other Buda police officers, the ability to connect with children in need continues to drive the department’s Shop With a Cop program, which was held this past weekend.
The program helps area children in need buy holiday gifts not only for themselves, but also their families.
Buda Police Department Public Information Officer Brittany Tate said the program started in 2010 as a way for the officers in Buda to connect with members of the community in a positive way. Shop With a Cop has remained “volunteer only” since its inception.
Tate said the kids, ages 6 to 13, are first chosen by counselors at Buda-area elementary schools. The students are then taken to Walmart in Buda where they get paired up with a Buda Police officer who helps them pick out gifts and keep track of whom they are for and how much is spent.
Tate said the department spent $2,500 in 2017, which included the costs for gifts and gift wrapping.
Benjamin, a student who was paired up with Officer Barry Lee, said he loved the shopping experience, but also appreciated the chance to just hang out with Lee while looking for the perfect gifts for his loved ones.
“It’s a great opportunity for anyone, I enjoy just walking around the store having someone to talk with,” Benjamin said.
Lee, along with other Buda Police officers present, said they got more out of Shop With A Cop than the kids sometimes, since the small size of the department only allows for participation in a few community events.
“I think at times we get more out of it than some of the kids do because it gives us an opportunity to hang out with them and give them a good experience,” Lee said.
Kirk Brandt, a newly commissioned Buda police officer, said this was his first year participating in the program. Brandt said he had strong emotions knowing how impactful it was to help a child in need.
“I think it’s great to put a good face on the PD,” Brandt said, as he helped a child load his gifts onto the conveyer belt. “A lot of times when people call you it’s the worst day for them but if you can come here and do something good for them, that’s what really matters.”
Tate said after the shopping trip Buda officers would take the kids out to lunch at Dan’s Hamburgers before delivering them back to their homes.
Tate said she and a group of volunteers wrap and tag all the presents the kids purchased. Officers then deliver them to the kids’ homes before Christmas to be added under their trees.
“We have so much fun, this is our one thing that we really get to do in the community,” Tate said.