Tradition and merriment will merge on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Elks Club in West Chester and the Walmart in East Marlborough Township. The “Sixth Annual Shop with the Sheriff “ will provide about 80 children from the Chester County Family Academy (CCFA), a K-2 charter school in West Chester, with a law-enforcement escort from the Elks Club to Walmart – complete with wailing sirens and flashing lights. At the store, the students will experience a coveted shopping spree to ensure that they get the perfect gifts for their family members.
The event got its genesis in Coatesville, where Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh and her deputies participated for years in “Shop with a Cop,” an excursion that provides underprivileged children with money to buy holiday gifts — and a member of law-enforcement to serve as a personal shopper.
In 2013, Welsh, who sits on the board of the CCFA, mused aloud about emulating the program for the charter school and received immediate encouragement from her staff. The event debuted in 2014, and this year will mark Welsh’s final Shop with the Sheriff. After 20 years in office, she did not seek reelection and will retire in January. Sheriff-elect Fredda Maddox said that Welsh had invited her to attend this year’s event and that she was looking forward to it.
“This event is the highlight of the year for these children,” said Welsh. “It gives them the opportunity to spend a joy-filled time with a uniformed deputy and creates a real bond with the child and law enforcement. It is heartwarming to see their special interaction throughout the day.”
To make Shop with the Sheriff possible, preparations began during the summer to line up volunteers and sponsors. Lt. Harry McKinney, one of the lead organizers, said Shop with the Sheriff could not occur without their invaluable support, assistance that continues to generate contagious enthusiasm. Some of the volunteers are community residents who happened to be shopping at Walmart during a previous Shop with the Sheriff and signed up to help. Members of the Elks Club, where the festivities begin and end, also participate, and Walmart workers reportedly compete for the shifts that overlap with the event.
Shop with the Sheriff includes a plethora of activities, ranging from breakfast and lunch to caroling and photos with Santa. The students will gather at the Elks Club and then board Krapf’s buses that will be escorted by a caravan of law-enforcement vehicles. Arrival time at the Walmart is estimated between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m. At the store, the youngsters will assemble in a room filled with activities, such as movies and coloring books, to await their turns shopping with a deputy or the sheriff herself.
Students will come to the event with a wish list of gift ideas for family members and a $100 budget. Practical choices such as pajamas, slippers, blankets, scarves and gloves typically dominate the lists. If money is left over, the deputies will encourage students to pick out a little something for themselves.
Once the gifts are selected, the shopping teams will head to designated cash registers, where a posse of volunteers will write the recipients’ names on the gifts, load them into large bags with the students’ names, and transport them to the gift-wrapping station set up at the Elks Club.