The annual Crime Alert Berks County holiday Shop-with-a-Cop event returned to Boscov’s North in Muhlenberg Township Thursday night.
Now in its 15th year, twenty-five 4th and 5th grade students from various Berks public and parochial schools were selected to participate, each receiving a $100 Boscov’s gift card to buy gifts for family members.
Joining them were thirty police officers from departments all over Berks County to assist in choosing the perfect holiday gifts.
For Crime Alert Berks President, Rick Periandi, the goal of the event is to allow kids to have a positive experience with police at a young age. “Tonight, they are one-on-one with officers for almost an hour. It gives them a different look at who the officer is, and the opportunity to see the good side of the police” said Periandi.
To kick off the evening, Santa Claus arrived riding on a Muhlenberg Township fire truck, later taking photos with each kid and their family.
“People don’t realize it, but police sometimes go to these kids homes, and they might be scared or intimidated by police. So when they come here, they can see they are normal people,” said Crime Alert Berks Vice President Chris Nein.
“A few years back, we had a kid arrive and give the cop a hug, but he was so scared when he first saw him. By the time he left, he gave him a high-five. I realized then how much this program matters to our community.”
In planning the event, Nein works with school principals who nominate students. “Lots of times, for example, if we have a kid from Fleetwood, I’ll try to pair them with a cop who covers that area, to try to make a better connection” said Nein.
After choosing gifts, volunteers from the United Way of Berks County assisted in gift wrapping. Each child also received a fleece blanket courtesy of Blankets of Hope of Berks County founder Marc Goldstein.
Being involved in the community is very important for Berks County Deputy Sheriff Frank Bolella. “I feel pretty passionate about community policing. In the Sheriff’s office, we cover the entire County and come in contact with a lot of different people” said Bolella.
“This is a great opportunity to connect with the community and show that police and deputy’s are human. We go shopping, we get stuff for our kids, just like everyone else.”