WOOD RIVER — Patches and Badges for Kids, formerly Shop with a Cop, has broadened its reach by bringing in volunteers to help children during the Christmas season.
Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics are joined by local motorcycle groups, such as the Red Knights, who are associated with fire departments, to help struggling families this holiday season.
“We work and raise funds for this event all year long,” Patches and Badges board member Jeff Benner said. “One of our largest events is partnered with the Sportsmen’s Club with a music fest and motorcycle ride. We run a golf tournament every year; that generates a lot of funds ... Donations come in from all over. Walmart even donated $500 to our program this year.”
School nurses and counselors are contacted by board members to find families in need. Each child is partnered and escorted by an officer, firefighter, deputy or motorcycle club member to go on a shopping spree at Wood River Walmart. Children pick out $100 worth of toys and $100 worth of clothes to take home as Christmas gifts.
“This has got to be my 15th or 16th year participating with this program,” Roxana Police Chief William Cunningham said. “This is one thing I look forward to every year. A lot of people only get to see us in an emergency or in a negative situation; this is one evening our residents get to know us as human beings, not authority figures in the community.”
Many of the public service professionals volunteer their time on their day off and bring their own families to participate in the shopping experience.
“I’ve brought my son several times,” Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Darin Trent said. “I think sometimes the kids have fun playing and picking out their toys with other kids; perhaps that makes them more comfortable at first. The kids also see us as members of a family and that we are not scary and mean.”
Walmart designated one check-out lane for the event and kept a running total. Children put toys and clothes on the conveyor belt to be checked out and some asked if those were items they really got to keep for Christmas. The amount spent over the two-day event was about $7,000 and more than 30 children will have a Christmas to remember.
“This is my third year with Patches and Badges,” East Alton K-9 officer Michael Young said. “This is a great program for the kids, and the smiles on their faces say it all.”
Patches and Badges for Kids President Brent Wells, his wife, Amy, and daughter Emily were on hand to make sure everything went smoothly by working the check-out lane to ensure every child was able to have the Christmas experience of a lifetime.
“I was one of the founders in the early ’90s when the program was still called Shop with a Cop,” Wells said. “We’ve become a not-for-profit organization and got more companies involved. I don’t know any officers, firemen, EMTs and motorcycle groups who have a public service job like this who don’t have a big heart. They want to make a difference in a kid’s life so that maybe one day they can be the next generation and take our place as we retire.”
Anyone who wishes to make a donation throughout the year to Patches and Badges for Kids can mail donations to P.O. Box 61, Bethalto, IL 62010 or call (314) 252-0197.