Friday, December 14, 2007

APD Officers Pair With Needy Children for Meal, Movie and Wal-Mart Trip

Monday, December 10, 2007
By Jack King, Journal Staff Writer

In the toy aisle of a Northeast Heights Wal-Mart on Sunday, one little girl stood up in a shopping cart lined with clothes and shouted at the flurry of shoppers blocking her way, "Beep, beep."
In the clothing department, another little girl laid her face against a pair of velour pants and purred, "Whoa, I want these."
Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Castillo surveyed the fairly well-controlled pandemonium and said, "It makes the job worth it all the rest of the year."
For the last 13 years, area police and sheriff's departments have held Cops for Kids. Children from low-income families are recommended by their school counselors. On a day before Christmas, the officers show up at their doors in squad cars, take them to breakfast, then on a shopping trip using $100 gift cards paid for by private donations, said Albuquerque Police Department Detective Patricia Paiz, who coordinates the program.
This year, 102 officers were paired off with 102 students from elementary and middle schools throughout Albuquerque and Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.
Ten of the students came from Sandoval County, four of them from Bernalillo. Many of the rest came through the Albuquerque Public Schools Homeless Project, and all are from homes with household incomes of less than $800 monthly, Paiz said.
"It's invaluable," said Bernalillo County Deputy Jessica Tyler, of Cops for Kids. "There's the interaction between the kids and the officers, and it gives these kids a Christmas they otherwise wouldn't have."
This year, the day began with a breakfast at Golden Corral that included— as Apache Elementary School third- grader Makayla Sulls firmly asserted— ice cream. Breakfast was followed by a cavalcade of police cars to the Academy NE Wal-Mart parking lot, where Santa Claus, actually Albuquerque Public Schools Police Chief Bill Reed decked in the traditional red and white suit and beard, arrived by helicopter. Later, there was to be a showing of "Enchanted" at the Century Rio 24 theater.
But first, there was serious shopping to be done.
Paiz said she visits the students' homes and gets a shopping list from their parents. They are required to buy a winter coat, shoes or a set of clothes, whatever they most need. But afterward, if there is anything left on their gift cards, they are free to buy toys.
Not all of them do. Some are like Chelwood Elementary fourth-grader Michael Romero, who told his escort, "No, I want to buy something for my dad now.
"He's really nice and he always gets me stuff. He's kind of like wasting his money on me, so I want to get him something."
Wal-Mart assistant manager James Short said Michael isn't the only unselfish student of the many groups he's seen in the 13 years the store has hosted Cops for Kids.
"That's the funny thing. When these kids come in, they always want to shop for their families," he said.

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