By Jason Wesseldyk
Some local first responders took time away from their usual duties to serve the community in another way in the week leading up to Christmas.
On Monday, Dec. 19, the Plainwell Department of Public Safety hosted the annual Shop With A Hero event at the Meijer in Plainwell, pairing nearly 120 middle school students with police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel. The local heroes escorted the children throughout the store and helped them pick out presents for family members.
After the shopping was complete, the children went to an area at the back of the store where volunteers—mostly Plainwell Middle School teachers and staff members—assisted in gift wrapping.
Sandwiches and snacks were available for the children during the event.
PDPS director Kevin Callahan said the event was once again a big hit.
“We had great responses from the children,” Callahan said. “They all enjoy hanging out with the heroes and likewise the heroes all enjoy interacting with the kids. It’s a great opportunity to talk with the kids that we may not have time to interact with if we were taking care of our regular patrol duties.
“The kids also enjoy asking questions about the job and usually quiz us all regarding certain aspects of the job. Some will even tell us they want to be a police officer or firefighter when they grow up.”
Prior to the start of the Shop With A Hero program, the PDPS took part in the Cop With A Cop program that was funded by donations from local businesses. That program was capped at approximately 30 children per year.
But in 2012, a private donor came forward to expand the program into what it is today.
“The donor had a positive childhood experience with law enforcement when he was younger and wanted others to have a positive experience with law enforcement,” Callahan said. “The donor comes to us every year to maintain the program and allows us to bring in over 120 kids per year. The size of the program is what caused us to expand to include other heroes such as fire and EMS personnel in addition to police officers.”
Callahan said the program is a great way for local heroes to have a positive interaction with the children.
“The role of law enforcement has changed over the years,” he said. “Now most agencies try to take on a service-oriented policing in the communities which puts more emphasis on the serve portion of the protect-and-serve police motto.
“Getting out an interacting with the community allows them to see law enforcement in another light. It allows the children to see us as human and not just an authority figure or someone they will only see when things are bad.”
Agencies that sent heroes to participate in this year’s event included: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office; the Gun Lake Tribal Public Safety; the Prairieville Township Police Department; the Otsego Police Department; the Gun Plain Fire Department; the Otsego Fire Department; the Salem Township Fire Department, the Plainwell EMS; and the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security.
“I cannot express in words the gratitude we have for everyone that makes this event possible,” Callahan said. “Everyone from the school support staff, teachers, school administrators, donors and personnel from Meijer support us both in the form of donations as well as staffing with cashiers, baggers and management just for this event and the use of a portion of the building they set aside so that the kids can have their presents wrapped is tremendous.
“This does include all the officers, firefighters and EMS staff that come in off duty to help with this event. Given the manpower shortage that almost every agency is currently facing, it is almost impossible to have agencies send people on duty and we could not appreciate it more.”
By Jason Wesseldyk