New Castle News

December 6, 2013

Shop with a Cop makes 116 children happy

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — All Mason Work wanted for Christmas was a basketball.

But when the 8-year-old New Castle boy left Walmart Thursday, he was the excited owner of a new scooter, a toy equalizer gun and a pair of Spiderman boots, in addition to a blue and white Wilson basketball. All the items were stacked in a buggy being pushed by New Castle police officer Aaron Womer.

It was Womer’s first time helping with Shop With a Cop, an effort pairing Walmart with police to buy gifts for underprivileged children.

He found it highly rewarding.

“It was definitely a good experience,” Womer said. “It’s good to take the kids out and see their faces when they get what they want.”

Womer also was assigned to help Hailey Fulkman, 6, who picked out a Barbie bicycle with training wheels, a Barbie helmet, a jewelry set and a doll.

Both Hailey and Mason attend New Castle’s Thaddeus Stevens School.

The 116 children who benefited from the shopping spree were selected by their schools. The idea is for them to buy toys and needed clothing for themselves that Santa otherwise might be unable to bring them. But some buy gifts for their siblings or other family members, too.

Each child received a gift card for $130 and cash registers in the store rang up more than $15,000 in merchandise from the event.

The money came from donations — big and small — from throughout Lawrence County.

Santa Claus greeted each child with a candy cane before he or she was paired off with an officer or other volunteer to start shopping.

The front of the store was crowded with about 300 people at the outset. In addition to the children, there were parents, grandparents, guardians and more than 40 volunteer shoppers.

Mason’s grandmother, Teresa, who lives on the city’s West Side, was with him Thursday.

“The police department called and told us he was picked to shop,” Workman said.

Mason was more excited about going shopping with a policeman than he was about buying things for himself, she said.

“We donate to the program every year,” she said. “I can’t say no to kids.”

Work said she also donated money to Santa Lane at the Croton School, because some children there had no money to buy presents at that shopping spree.

“Things are so tough right now,” she said. “To make a child smile, that makes my heart sing.”

Shopping volunteers included state police and officers from departments countywide; personnel from Lawrence County’s sheriff, adult probation, juvenile probation and prothonotary’s departments; the New Castle Fire Department; the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County and community members.

Stacy Payne, Walmart’s store manager, noted this was the 13th year for Shop With a Cop at the New Castle store. The company also donates money toward the effort.

“It’s something we’ve been doing for years” as a joint effort between Walmart and the police departments, Payne said.

But she was most impressed with the size of this year’s local event.

“I’ve never seen one so big in 11 years.”

Kristy Taylor, who lives on Neshannock Avenue, was there with four of her six children.

Three were chosen to go shopping through John F. Kennedy School. The fourth, 2-month-old Savannah Mielke, was too tiny to take part in the shopping, but slept soundly in an infant seat in a shopping cart, oblivious to the activity around her. Taylor’s boys wanted “Flipeez,” animal hats with flopping ears.

Thursday’s event was organized by New Castle patrolman John George, with Lt. Sheila Panella assisting in planning and setup.

“My stomach’s in knots. I didn’t sleep last night,” George said while the children were assembling.

“Without the donations we received, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” he added.

Donations are taken throughout the year and George already is accepting them for next year.

“I hope to get to a point where we don’t have to make any cuts,” he said. “I don’t want to leave out any kids.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)