New Lenox police officers make children's year with Shop with a Cop

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It took just one morning for New Lenox police officers to make a group of local children's entire year.

Shop with a Cop is an event where New Lenox police officers and their families, and other volunteers take underprivileged children shopping at Walmart Saturday to buy Christmas presents. They took 50 children and each had a $100 gift card.

And in a lot of cases, the children make the officers just as happy, if not happier, Chief Lou Alessandrini said. One story in particular stood out.

An 11-year-old child finished his shopping and told officers how thankful he was for doing this for the children, he hopes they continue to do it to help others and that he was grateful for making his Christmas special.

Alessandrini noticed as he was leaving he only had one present in his cart. His response and what happened after had officers in tears.

Alessandrini retold the story the best he could.

"He told me, 'With the financial situation at home, I had to decide what I wanted, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get this Lego set if I didn't get it today,'" Alessandrini said. "I walked out with him and asked him what items two and three were on his list, he told me, so I went back in with who he shopped with, and we bought those gifts for him, too."

The child told the officers, in tears, that they made his entire year.

"This is why we do what we do," Alessandrini said of the moment when he and the other officers gave the boy his gifts.

And for a lot of these children, they would not be in any situation like this if it wasn't for the effect 2020 and the pandemic has had on their family.

Sgt. Mike Jurka, a longtime NLPD officer, took an 8-year-old girl, who bought for herself and entire family.

"It is great to get out and give back to the community," Jurka said. "Seeing how excited (Bella) is makes it worthwhile. It's been a tough year on a lot of families and if we could bring just a little bit of joy, that is a highlight."

The event also had three first-time officers, Candace Guidry, Ethan Hanly and Derek Kaczmarczyk, participate. Guidry said it was nice to be able to interact with the children because the three of them typically work midnights.

Hanly had a situation where he had to make one of his shoppers buy a gift for themself.

"She bought something for her brothers and sisters and we got to the end and she didn't have anything," he said. "She said she didn't need anything because she had lots of toys already. It's just nice to see the innocence and thoughtfulness of these kids."

The event was much different than years past in that the police didn't take the children on a parade from NLPD to Walmart, shopping was split into shifts, and there was no wrapping party after. But it couldn't have gone better, despite the pandemic.

"This was the best Shop with a Cop event we've had yet," Alessandrini said.