By Joey McWilliams
DURANT – Christmas time is often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year. In Durant, the police department has been doing what it can for 10 years now to make that a more of a real thing for many families in the community.
On Wednesday morning, more than 300 children with their families gathered at Walmart to meet with a police officer to Shop with a Cop.
The program provides money for the direct purchase of items at the store and participants were put together with officers, or other volunteers there for the event, such as firemen, sheriffs, teachers, volunteers from churches and more.
John Wyatt, captain over the reserves of the Durant Police Department, spoke about the annual event.
“This is our 10th year for the Shop with a Cop,” Wyatt said. “This is where we have an opportunity in the local area. Agencies come together.
“Families will send us referrals. and schools will us referrals and our committee will look at these letters. They will pick families and allocate a budget amount for each one. And this is a great time to come out and shop with these families who could use a little help for Christmas.”
Wyatt said all of the officers in Durant are involved in one way or another, even if some were working during the morning’s activities and couldn’t be on site.
This year’s event was the largest to date and Wyatt said he expected as much this season.
“We knew this was going to be bigger because this is our 10th year. We did a little bit more fundraising, more advertising to tell people that we wanted to them to submit letters. And then we had a lot more letters than we anticipated and we had to keep fundraising. It’s been a big year this year.”
Chris Glendening, the manager of Durant’s Walmart for the past three and a half years, said the experience was absolutely fantastic.
“The overwhelming ability of the officers to raise the funds to carry over 300 families was just phenomenal,” Glendening said. “With all the challenges this year, with all the disasters and everything going on, for them to be able to raise the funds this year – this is as big as I’ve ever seen.
“I’ve been with Walmart for 25 years, this is by far the biggest I’ve seen. Kudos to those guys.”
Wyatt said the police department has many methods of raising money, including fundraisers and other activities in the community. But he stressed those were not the only avenues by which this program is supported.
“We have foundation members that are sponsors of our committee, like Walmart, Shamrock Bank, Durant Masonic Lodge, Durant Police Reserves, Fraternal Order of Police, Ed F. Davis, and I could keep going,” Wyatt said. “These people have helped us every year. And then we get people that may walk in line in Walmart and see us and hand us some money. So we get contributions throughout the year and it’s a great program.
Fundraiser go on throughout the year with many law enforcement personnel in attendance and advertising the Shop with a Cop program.
“But without the foundation members and business sponsors that we have, we couldn’t make this work,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt said there were more than 120 families represented on the day. Tiffanie Hardage had five children who were blessed by being able to take part.
“It means a lot,” Hardage said. “I don’t know who turned us in for this at all…”
She stopped there as it became emotional for her to go on while she was expressing her gratitude.
Others in the community were there to team up with the recipients and help guide them through the morning.
Heather Smiley is a fourth grade math and science teacher at Durant Intermediate School and was at Walmart helping families pick out toys and gifts.
“It means a lot to me,” Smiley said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot. So now that I’m in a better position, I can help families in our community. And I get to see students of mine get things that I know that they need that they wouldn’t normally get.
“I appreciate all the hard work that everyone has done. It’s a good event.”
Wyatt said that the program as something that made a difference to him, not just professionally, but also personally.
“This is really important for me because I’ve been in law enforcement for a lot of years and one of things that I strongly believe in is community policing,” Wyatt said. “And you know, you’d be surprised. All these officers are the same way. They’re doing it because they want to serve. And yes, we have a tough job out there. But this is the time that we get to serve in a different capacity. We can help families that are struggling financially.
“And we see things that happen. We get called to these homes and we see a lot of things that happen that are not good for families. And these officers are coming in and say, ‘Hey, I ran into a family that had something really bad happen. And we want to help them.’ So we put them in with Shop with a Cop. And other people in the community are seeing the program and they like it. So they contribute and they also refer families to us.”
Glendening has the opportunity to see many people come through his store daily, but this day was a different kind of day. And he commended those responsible for making the program work for those people who really needed it.
“I appreciate what the officers and the fire department do for the community. Everybody just pulled together to make this possible. I just appreciate those guys.”