Anyone coming to the west entrance of the Newport Mall on Dec. 5 may have been puzzled by the line of kids, strollers, parents, and cops outside the police precinct there.
Anxious chatter echoed in the corridor, while inside in the backroom, special guests waited to make an appearance: McGruff, the crime dog, and perhaps most important to the tots waiting outside, the big man of the season, Santa Claus himself.
This was the kickoff of the annual “Shop with a Cop” program. While in its fifth year, this is the first time the program took place in Newport Mall, exciting many of the kids involved since they will get to choose what store to shop in.
In past years, the program has been outside the mall, held in places like the nearby Target store.
“It’s a feel good event.” – Jill Daniel
The annual event is part of a police initiative to help bolster community relations between the JCPD and residents that has become one of the chief objectives under Police Chief Michael Kelly, who was named to his post earlier this year.
With the help of guidance counselors from various public schools in Jersey City, 60 kids were selected to take part in the event. Each child was paired with a police officer and given a $100 gift card that could be used in any store. The kids could buy presents for themselves or for friends or relatives.
The program started in 2014, but has become so popular among the police, many officers who have taken part in the past volunteer to take part each year and even look forward to it.
Because some of the stores in the mall offer additional discounts, kids had the ability to stretch their dollars even more in a shopping spree with their police companion.
Jada, a student from Public School No. 8, accompanied by Police Officer Johanna Kierce, studied a map of the mall in search of a store called “The Flying Tiger,” which turned out to be Flying Tiger Copenhagen, a store offering a number of international accessories, home and garden and other items.
Jada said she was looking for something for her locker at school.
For Kierce, this was her first year taking part in the event.
“Last year I was a rookie,” she said.
The duo was later seen headed up the escalator to the second floor in their search for bargains.
Police officer Davy Cruz accompanied PS No. 3 student Sambathia through the mall, although Sambathia did not know yet what she intended to buy.
A wealth of choices
The variety of stores in the mall tends to increase the challenge as well as the fun.
One officer said kids in the past came to the event with a preconceived notion of what they wanted to buy. They pursued it, found it, and then saw something else that interested them more.
The idea behind the program is to allow kids and cops to interact in a more positive way. While the kids clearly seemed thrilled with the adventure, so were some of the cops.
Part of the treat is that kids get to meet Santa and McGruff at the start of the event.
But many of the kids outside the police station simply stopped to say hello to Santa, such as Zoey and Zorro, who sat in their baby carriages as Santa came over to greet them.
A number of kids rushed up to hug Santa. Surprisingly, some cops did, too.
Santa greeted each kid and posed for pictures, asking kids to say “jingle bells” instead of cheese, as parents caught the moment with their smart phone.
Jill Daniel, director of marketing for the Newport Mall, said the kids came from various schools in the district.
The funds for the purchase of the gift cards come from a combination of sources, including police fundraising, donations from business, corporate and private sponsors.
Since its inception in 2014, hundreds of children from Jersey City have participated in the yearly holiday event. The police department coordinates with East District Public Schools to determine which students would most benefit from the program.
“It’s a feel good event,” Daniel said.
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