Hometown heroes spread holiday spirit

Law enforcement, children team up for annual Shop with a Cop

MANISTEE COUNTY — When most people think of law enforcement, shopping for the holidays is not normally the first thought that comes to mind.

However, a reigning tradition in Manistee County, the annual Shop with a Cop event defies the norm, pairing a law enforcement officer with a local child to shop for gifts at Meijer in Parkdale.

On Wednesday night, 20 children received $100 gift cards from Meijer, which donated $5,000 to the cause. Children were able to browse the store with their selected officer, to find personal wish-list items and gifts for family members.

Lt. Brian Gutowski, emergency management coordinator with the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office, said

Deputy Mike Sekuris and his wife, Dawn, helping Riley complete his wishlist during Shop with a Cop on Wednesday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

Deputy Mike Sekuris and his wife, Dawn, helping Riley complete his wishlist during Shop with a Cop on Wednesday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

the event gives back to children, all the while creating bonds between the community and local law enforcement.

“The reason this program was started was to create positive relationships between children in need and law enforcement,” said Gutowski. “Meijer has once again stepped up and been a fabulous supporter of our event. We really couldn’t do this event the way we do it without the support of Meijer.”

Police and their partners were exploring the Meijer aisles on Wednesday, searching for items like clothing, toys and even school supplies.

After the shopping was finished, volunteers help the children wrap their gifts. Pizza Hut in Manistee provided a pizza dinner for the participants.

Local organizations like Love INC helped with the process for identifying children, from ages 6-12, who qualify for the event. Many local businesses and private citizens also contribute with donations, and of course, the officers donate their time to participate.

Emily and Lt. Brian Gutowski check out art supply items during the Shop with a Cop event on Wednesday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

Emily and Lt. Brian Gutowski check out art supply items during the Shop with a Cop event on Wednesday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

Officers from Manistee County Sheriff’s Office, Manistee City Police department, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Department of Public Safety, Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections and Michigan Department of Natural Resources were at the event this year.

“This event is important to local law enforcement, because there is a ton of negative news regarding law enforcement,” said Gutowski. “We want these kids to understand that we are people too. We want them to understand that if they see someone in uniform, they can approach that person for help.”

Throughout the 12 years the program has taken place in Manistee County, hundreds of children have been assisted through Shop with a Cop. The program was created in 2006 by Officer Matt McShane, a sergeant at Oaks Correctional Facility.

All participants must meet the criteria to shop.

“I started this 12 years ago, and we are trying new things now,” McShane said. “I’d love to see it keep going.”

Gutowski said holding events like Shop with a Cop allows others to understand law enforcement better, and help children feel more comfortable around police, as well.

“As a deputy, I would routinely hear parents say, ‘If you’re not good, I’ll have the officer take you to jail’,” he said. “This is the exact opposite of what we want kids to think of when they see law enforcement. We want them to see us, remember the nice officer they shopped with during this event, and feel comfortable enough to approach us for help.”

Ken Babcock, store director for Meijer, said Meijer is proud to participate in the event for another year, as it sends a positive message to the community. He said the store plans to partner with Shop with a Cop in the future.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for local children to shop with local heroes, so they can familiarize themselves with some of the people who do so much for our community every day,” said Babcock. “It’s a great partnership.”

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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