Local underprivileged children get to pick holiday gifts with police

Jon Stinchcomb and Jon Stinchcomb

For over 120 underprivileged children from around the area, Christmas got a lot brighter on Saturday morning.

Under the big fluorescent lights in the Meijer supermarket at Rossford, each of them went on a shopping spree worth $100. Guiding each individual child through the store was a member of local law enforcement.

The event was part of the annual “Cops and Kids” program put on by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #109 in Wood County.

Dan Van Vorhis, of F.O.P. 109, organized the event. He said his lodge, which represents members from 14 law enforcement agencies in the area, raises most of the necessary funds by selling raffle tickets and accepting donations from the community.

Josh, a third-grader from Perrysburg, made it clear that the coolest thrill of the event came from wearing an official Ohio State Highway Patrol hat.

As Josh pushed the cart throughout the store during his brief but exciting shopping spree along-side Sgt. Bob Ashenfelter, Josh received countless compliments for the immediately recognizable broad-brimmed trooper hat, which seemed to sit atop his head just perfectly.

When it came time to take it off to try on some sweatshirts, Josh was quick to let Ashenfelter know that they fit so he could put the hat back on.

For over a half hour, as Ashenfelter helped Josh fill his cart with new shirts, pajamas, and other clothes, Josh was able to feel in-charge and on top of the world as he picked out his favorites.

Ashenfelter, who has been working for the State Highway Patrol for 16 years, said he’s been volunteering in the “Cops and Kids” programs for nearly 10 years.

“This is just something where we decide to give back to the community,” he said. “We try to reach as many kids as we can.”

Ashenfelter said his favorite part of the event is spending time with the kids, getting to know them and ensuring they can find things they truly want.

While the program has parents make a list of items their child needs, such as winter jackets, boots, gloves, etc., each chaperoning officer helps them choose their own, staying within the budget and being sure to save enough for toys too.

Eventually, after finding socks and the like, including some nice football-themed clothes, which Josh said he really wanted, he and Ashenfelter made their way to the toy department.

In the first aisle they turned down, Josh’s eyes grew wide, and with a big smile, he pointed. From top to bottom, toy “nerf” guns lined the shelves in this small portion near the middle.

Ashenfelter was less enthusiastic about the “nerf” guns, but remained entirely receptive, warm and cordial. He asked Josh a couple of questions about the toys, like why he wanted one, where to play with it, whom not to aim at and so forth.

They continued to talk for a short while and the topic came up of what Josh wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to be a cop,” Josh said proudly still wearing the trooper hat.

They discussed that as well and Josh told Ashenfelter he was the only police officer he knew, but was certain that’s what he wanted to be.

Leaving behind the toy guns for a moment, they both decided to look for some model police cars in the next aisle.

That’s when Josh found his favorite pick of the whole shopping spree. Near the top shelf were some great big 1/10th-scale remote control cars. They checked out the Mustang, the Camaro and some others, but hiding at the very back was a brand new bright green 2015 Corvette Stingray.

Josh was able to get it and still had enough left for one more thing.

Ashenfelter said his only rule with the shopping trip is they find a book at the end. He helped Josh pick one out that he hadn’t read yet and looked good, then they made their way to checkout.

When it was time to say goodbye, Josh took off the hat, gave it back to the trooper and Ashenfelter handed him a signed photo of the two taken at the start of the event. In it, the pair share a very similar smile, but it’s Josh donning the distinct cap.

Josh, as well as all of the other participating kids and their families from Wood County, took home so much more than just a cart full of new gifts. Along with that came a positive relationship and stronger bond with area law enforcement, which Van Vorhis said is the primary purpose for the “Cops and Kids” program.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Judy Cassidy, this Meijer store director. “Meijer loves to give back, so we really get behind it.”

“The kids enjoy it,” she said. “It’s my favorite day of the whole entire year to work. It just gives you the warm and fuzzies.”