Trip to local Wal-Mart provides rich reminders

I have to confess I wasn’t really in the mood to roll out of bed Saturday morning and drive down to Lebanon to cover an early-morning event at Wal-Mart.

But duty calls and this one sounded interesting — Shop with a Cop.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of such an event. I’ve lived and worked in lots of places and many have similar holiday programs, in which police officers take young, underprivileged children shopping for presents. I’d even edited stories about them, written by my reporters.

But this time it was me, not necessarily looking to write a big story, but there to get some pictures (see page 1) and record the event as part of the holiday happenings in the Sweet Home area.

There were, I believe, about six Sweet Home police there, waiting in the entry area at Wal-Mart, along with a bunch of Lebanon officers and Sheriff’s deputies. Off to the side was a group of eager children — 25 of them — ages 4 to 10.

Each child got a gift certificate worth $50 with which he or she could purchase presents for themselves or their families.

My daughter had accompanied me, but she was there to do some business of her own and disappeared quickly. The kids quickly were paired up with officers and headed out to do some shopping.

I tagged along, bouncing from one pair of shoppers to another. I wasn’t there to be a distraction, so I tried to minimize my contact as much as possible. These kids were there to have fun and take care of business, not pose for photos.

One thing I noticed quickly was that all the children seemed a bit wary. The word “underprivileged” can mean a lot of things, but it often — though not always — includes things like unsettled family situations, homelessness, foster care, lack of nourishment, etc. I could see why some of these kids might be a little wary, even in an atmosphere of good cheer.

Smiling Wal-Mart employees were definitely enjoying the moment as they lurked about, watching the children shop.

Some of them knew just what they were doing. They ran to the toy shelves and started picking out all that their hearts desired. Eventually, their police partner would have to step in and help them be a little more selective.

“Do you think you’d rather have this or that?”

“Uh, this, I think.”

“Hmmm. We seem to be getting a lot of stuff. Were you going to get anything for anybody else in your family?”

I was particularly struck, though, by one boy. He and his police friend headed off through the store. The youngster stopped at the first toy rack he came to.

“Hey, look at that car!” he said, staring at a shiny little sports car up on a shelf.

“You think you’d like that car? the cop asked.

The boy didn’t really answer. He seemed to be having some trouble processing the idea that he was there to actually buy something he wanted.

He finally started selecting some presents, but the first one wasn’t for him — it was for his sister.

After the shopping, there was the picture with Santa and there was breakfast at McDonalds for those who wanted it now. If they didn’t, they could get a lunch later.

So was there a point to all of this? The point that was driven home for me was simply to be reminded that those of us who are privileged to have stable families and plenty of clothes on our backs and food in our stomachs tend to take it for granted.

It was good to see some kids, who don’t have daily assurance of all those things, enjoy them.

And in the end, a truly jolly good time was had by all.