GPD Officer Dan Stroup and 10-year-old Halin Everts help make Christmas special for more than 70 local children.
The shopping cart was overflowing with boot boxes, leopard-print pajamas, pink Barbie doll boxes and accessories, and lots of plastic horse toys. With fingers gripping the cart, five excited children bounced along beside Gillette Police Cpl. Dan Stroup and pointed him toward the cash registers, excitedly chatting about their purchases.
In the aisles around them, other GPD officers, Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies and uniformed men and women led their charges through Walmart Saturday morning as the children scanned the shelves for gifts for both their families and themselves.
The annual outing is part of GPD’s Shop With a Cop program, that according to current organizer Dan Stroup, has been going on for as long as anyone in the department can remember. He’s led the event for the past 14 years, along with his wife Tonya, who was dressed like Mrs. Claus, directing kids toward Santa to sit on his lap, share Christmas wishes, and have their pictures taken.
This year, about 74 local children participated, each receiving a gift card for $175, all of which comes from fundraisers throughout the year, and donations from community groups and businesses, including Walmart. Stroup works with local service agencies like the Y.E.S. House, GARF, the Department of Family Services, school counselors and others to help identify children and teens who are eligible to apply for the program. The only criteria are that the kids at some point have had a negative run-in with the police and have a financial need.
Reversing the negative relationship with police is a big part of why they do this, Stroup said. In some cases, they may have arrested a parent or removed a child from a home or in some way, perhaps, negatively impacted the family.
“For us, it’s just another Tuesday,” Stroup said, “but for them, it’s one of the worst days of their lives. I just want to give back and provide a good Christmas for kids who might not otherwise have had one and show them we’re not bad guys.”
For Cassidy Dahlhausen, that message resonated a long way with her three-year-old daughter Paige, who was busy scrambling onto Santa’s lap to get her candy cane and a complimentary stocking. Like the other children present, she’d filled up her cart with lots of toys, particularly Frozen stuff, and a few Barbies, and enjoyed her morning with the officers.
“It means a lot,” Dahlhausen said of her daughter’s experience. “She’s had some bad situations as a kid that are no fault of her own. This is a fun time for her, and I’m incredibly grateful.”
CCSO Deputy Austin Hunter had spent the morning shopping with the children, all of whom loaded up on shoes, clothes, Godzilla toys, and one girl even bought candy for her parents.
“I had a great time,” Hunter said. “I really loved it.”
Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Doll also enjoyed himself. He’s incredibly grateful, he said, for all of the presents that otherwise he never would have been able to buy. Things like black steel-toe boots for winter, sunglasses, gift cards for video games, and some studio headphones to listen to his “depressing, angry/happy music.”
“It was awesome,” he said.
Perhaps the person who had the best time that morning was 10-year-old Halin Everts. For the past three weekends, she’d been selling hot cocoa in front of her home in Eastview Trailer Park to raise money to help buy Christmas presents for other children at the Shop with a Cop event.
According to Halin’s mom, Desiree Everts, her daughter came up with the idea a few weeks ago and the ball began to roll and just kept on rolling. Her papa built her a stand, which she and her friend, Josh Points, decorated with lights. City Brew donated hot cocoa for her to sell by donation only and, after three weekends, she’d already raised $500, all of which was donated to the Shop With a Cop program.
On Saturday, Halin had breakfast at Paintbrush Elementary with the rest of the kids, and later drove over to Walmart with GPD Officer Steve Dillard and his wife, where she helped two boys pick out their presents. When Dillard suggested she buy something for herself, Halin immediately declined. This is their day; she has everything she needs.
Her daughter’s big heart makes her mom want to cry.
“She absolutely loved it,” Desiree said with emotion in her voice. “I think she’s just amazing. She wanted to make sure that other kids have presents for Christmas.”
Although she reached her goal, Halin is not stopping until she’s able to help more people this holiday season. She’s not sure how she’ll donate the money next, but her mom is certain she’ll find a good cause.
Halin’s hot chocolate stand will be open for the next two weekends leading up to Christmas on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 to 8 p.m. in front of Points’ house at 275 Sierra Circle. The hot chocolate she sells is for donation only, and she’s also passing out candy canes and smiles.