Police Det. Carter Staaf is breaking the ice with the boy tagging along at his side as they walk through Eden Prairie Shopping Center.
“What’s your favorite subject in school?” he asks.
“Play any sports?” adds Staaf.
It’s a getting-to-know-you moment as the two participate in the Holiday with Heroes program Saturday, Dec. 4, at the mall. Police officers and firefighters from Eden Prairie departments have been paired with 13 children, ages 7-11, who were recommended for the program by a local nonprofit.
On this Saturday morning the kids will “shop with a cop,” you might say, although this year firefighters are for the first time part of this annual effort to brighten the holiday for local children who otherwise might have fewer presents under the tree.
When gifts have been bought, and all of the donated cash earmarked for each child is gone, they’ll gather at Scheels for ice cream and a ride on the Ferris wheel.
“It’s a good time for everybody,” says Lisa Toomey, an Eden Prairie City Council member and board president for the Eden Prairie Crime Prevention Fund, the nonprofit that has held the program for the last seven years.
The Crime Prevention Fund may be known more for providing crime-solving reward money and supporting the Eden Prairie Police Department’s canine program. But, Toomey started the shopping program in Eden Prairie after seeing it elsewhere and thinking it would not only help kids from needy families, but also help bust the stereotype of police as tough-minded law enforcers.
“I thought it would be a great outreach program,” she said, and it’s helped along by a generous benefactor who funds the outing, which also includes a Cub gift card for the moms and dads who drop off their kids for the shopping spree.
It can be a bit much for the youngsters. Carter and the excited boy assigned to him wind through the mall, stop at the Lids store to look at hats and other sports gear, then wander many, many of the aisles of Target.
“It’s a lot to take in, right?” Staaf says to his shopping apprentice.
Staaf has volunteered all seven years of the program, and is occasionally surprised by how meaningful the one- to two-hour shopping spree can be for the kids and their families. One youngster’s mom checked back with him after the program, happy to report they had landed a permanent home after living in temporary housing.
Kids, he says, often show their big hearts by shopping for a brother, a sister, or Mom and Dad.
On this day, his shopping spree ends abruptly when the boy decides to spend the allotment on an Xbox video-game console, literally jumping for joy at the checkout.
And that’s good because, after all, the whole idea is to brighten someone’s Christmas.
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. The Crime Prevention Fund has on occasion been awarded Foundation grants.
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