Saturday might have been the best day of JoEllen Weimerskirch's life, the 6-year-old Charlotte resident said.
She spent the morning shopping, wrapping presents, meeting Santa and having fun with 25 police officers and volunteers as part of the annual Shop with a Cop event.
The event, which is organized by the Clinton Citizens Police Academy Alumni, is in its fifth year. This year, 27 children were given $100 gift cards each to spend on Christmas presents for family members and themselves at either Walmart or Target while being accompanied by police officers from Clinton, Camanche, Fulton, Ill., Clinton County or a volunteer with the CCPA.
“The biggest reason to do this is to watch the joy of the kids,” CPAA member Connie Brashaw said. “To see their smiles is worth it all.”
Children were selected by Clinton police officer Shane Haskell, who is the school resource officer at Washington Middle School. He has been involved in the event for three years with similar motives as Brashaw.
“We do it to make Christmas brighter for the community,” Haskell said. “It's the true meaning of Christmas to see a child smile.”
Clinging to her new doll, “Ella,” Weimerskirch helped volunteer Lisa Millman wrap the presents she had purchased for her brothers and parents.
“This doll is my whole life,” she said as she combed Ella's shiny blonde hair.
Millman has been volunteering for the event for three years. She teared up looking at Weimerskirch smiling.
“She was kissing the box the whole ride here,” Millman said. “This is my favorite day of the whole year.”
The event is possible because of donations received by various community groups. This year children from Clinton along with one each from Fulton, Camanche and Clinton County are selected depending on how much money is available. Last year 21 children shopped with a cop, including some from DeWitt. However, because of growth in the program, DeWitt was able to sponsor its own event.
Children and law enforcement filled the aisles of Target and Walmart on Saturday morning searching for gifts on their wishlists.
A pair of brightly colored knee-high tennis shoes made their way home with 7-year-old Amelia Gomez, of Clinton. Her shopping buddy, Clinton police officer Dean Ottens, showed off the eye-catching footwear to the rest of the group while they enjoyed treats in Target.
“I've done the event before and every time it's wonderful,” Ottens said.
After purchasing their items, the group headed back to Bluff Elementary School for present wrapping, pizza eating and visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Tyreke Foster, 8, of Clinton, and his partner, Clinton police officer Dan Sager, wrapped the action figures and other presents Foster purchased for his family members.
“This is the best Christmas of my life,” Foster said.