Sgt. Dan Tames, a 14-year veteran of the Edmonton police, bent down to carefully inspect a glittering pink squishy toy that Gracious Blamo, 9, picked off the shelf.
The unusual scene was one of many heart-warming moments between 26 elementary school students from northeast Edmonton and officers from the Edmonton police Northeast Division at the CopShop event at Londonderry Mall at 137 Avenue and 66 Street on Wednesday.
“They are invited here to pair up with a cop and they get to shop — so ‘CopShop’ — for an hour-and-a-half with a $200 gift card that is provided through the mall,” said Vanessa Julio, marketing manager at Londonderry Mall.
Students, selected based on their good behaviour and leadership at school, were free to choose whatever they wanted with their $200 gift card from the mall to satisfy their wish lists, but Tames said officers were taken aback by their generosity and selflessness.
“They have lists of items that they wanted to purchase for their families. They weren’t so much looking to purchase things for themselves, they were looking to purchase things for their brothers and sisters, moms and dads,” Tames said.
“This is a wonderful way to make them feel special,” said Tracy Poulin, director of the Edmonton Public Schools foundation. “What’s really special about these kids is that often they won’t just go and buy things for themselves. This is when their true spirits come out.”
Beyond picking out Christmas gifts, the event promotes positive relationships between local police officers and the children who live in the communities they serve.
“We have a lot of children here who haven’t had an interaction with the police before, and if they have, maybe it’s been possibly negative,” said Tames. “It gives them an opportunity to see us and to know us on a personal level, and to realize and to know that the police are their friends and that we’re here to help them.”
With a pizza lunch and a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus rounding out the day’s events, all involved left smiling.