Lake Villa police hold 10th annual Shop with a Cop
ROUND LAKE BEACH – The moment he stepped off that school bus at Walmart, 7-year-old Cody knew exactly what he was looking for.
Weaving his way through the aisles and around other shoppers, he headed straight for the Nerf section and stood on his tiptoes to acquire his target: The Nerf N-Strike Elite BattleCamo Series Stryfe toy gun.
The package was nearly half his size, but he waddled down the aisle with it, his thin arms stretched wide to hold it aloft. He handed it to Officer Dennis Bulanda, who placed it into the cart for him. Cody immediately disappeared back down the aisle to peruse the other toys waiting for him on the shelves.
It was just after 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and the toy section of Walmart in Round Lake Beach was peppered with uniformed police officers, their families and the children participating in the 10th annual Lake Villa Shop with a Cop event.
The evening kicked off with a Christmas party at nearby Lehmann Mansion, where the children and their families could eat, dance, play games and mingle with members of the Lake Villa Police Department.
For Lake Villa resident Angelica Ayala, this was the first year her children were nominated to participate in the event.
“This is great, especially with all of the police officers,” she said. “They’re super sweet … and they’re really friendly to the kids. I think that’s very important because I think sometimes they can be intimidating. So this is really nice.”
Police Chief Craig Somerville said 64 children participated in this year’s event, all of whom were nominated for the program by teachers or administrators within the Lake Villa school district. The support the police department receives each year for the event is unparalleled, he added.
"The community support – we could never do this on our own,” he said. “It’s all through donations; there’s no taxpayer money involved here. It’s all through generous donations, and we get those checks coming in all year and we earmark them.”
It’s events like these, he said, that help bridge the gap between the police force and the community it serves, allowing the public to see its officers in a setting that helps dispel stereotypes and fosters positivity.
For community members who haven’t had the opportunity to interact with the police department at other events, it allows them to create a positive first impression.
“Most of the time, there’s always a negative reaction with police; this is a positive one,” Officer Anthony Caliendo said. “If the kids can see a positive one and take that back, next time they see the police, they won’t be afraid. There’s sometimes a fear factor. Not that the kids here are disadvantaged kids, but some of them maybe never met the police before, so the first time they meet someone is important."
After the party, participating children boarded a school bus and were driven to Walmart with a 10-car police escort. The caravan wound through the Walmart parking lot, lights flashing and sirens whooping, making the children feel like the VIP’s they were that evening.
Three of Caliendo’s four daughters were already lined up by the bus, eagerly waiting for the children to disembark. Each year, he said, his daughters look forward to meeting the girls participating in Shop with a Cop and helping them go shopping.
“That’s why I do it – for them,” he said. “They love the giving part.”
Caliendo isn’t the only officer whose family members join him each year for the event. Somerville said several officers bring their children to help out.
“They come not to get, they come to give,” he said. “They come to help. They get to see another side. It’s not just about getting stuff at Christmas. It’s giving – really is what it’s all about and they delight in that. It’s really great to see.”
Shop with a Cop is just one of several events the Lake Villa Police Department hosts or participates in each year to help support its community and other charity organizations. This past September, a team of officers and their friends and family members raised more than $1,000 in the 2018 Plane Pull – “the ultimate tug-of-war competition as teams compete to pull an aircraft 12 feet as quickly as possible” at O’Hare International Airport to raise money for the Special Olympics Illinois.
“This is a great giving department,” Somerville said. “They really understand what it’s all about and I’m proud to work with them.”