BENSON — On Dec. 4, about 40 children will be partnered with a law enforcement officer and treated to a shopping spree at the Benson Walmart.
Shop With a Cop is a national program that gives children positive experiences with members of law enforcement through a holiday shopping activity. Children between 5 and 13 years old go through a qualifying process in order to participate. They are treated to breakfast in the Benson School District multipurpose room, where they meet their law enforcement partner for the first time. The breakfast, which is around 7 a.m., allows the two to get acquainted.
Following breakfast, the youngsters are transported to Walmart in a long procession of law enforcement vehicles, complete with lights and sirens.
“The kids love riding in the procession,” said Kierstin Kessler, a crime scene technician with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office who serves as the Benson SWAC executive director. “They have fun playing with the microphones and hearing the sirens while going down the street. For a lot of the children, the procession is the highlight of their morning.”
Every child is given a gift card with a $150 limit to spend on Christmas gifts. The child’s shopping partner tracks how much is being spent and helps monitor the amount of money left on the card.
Typically, many of the children make a list and shop for family members as well as themselves. Once finished, they return to the multipurpose room where gifts are wrapped with the help of their law enforcement partners.
Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada, who has participated in past SWAC events, said he really enjoys the program, especially connecting with the young people.
“What I found most rewarding is that the kids that I was partnered with wanted to shop for family members instead of using all the money to splurge on themselves,” he said. “I was very impressed by that.”
In addition to the gift cards, four children — two boys and two girls — will win a bicycle through a drawing paid for with SWAC funds. The bicycles come with a helmet and lock.
Former Benson business owner Denise Celentano introduced the community to SWAC in 2010 and served as the local organization’s first executive director.
After seven years, Celentano and her husband decided to retire and she handed the program over to the CCSO Deputy’s Association.
During her time as executive director, Celentano saw the program grow from 18 children that first year to 40, sometimes more.
“Shopping with the kids and seeing their excitement is so rewarding,” Kessler said. “I absolutely love this program. You’re helping children who may not have an opportunity to do holiday shopping, while creating a positive experience between the child and law enforcement.”
Kessler has been involved with SWAC since 2015 and took over as executive director in 2017.
“Every year, Shop With a Cop receives wonderful community support,” she said.