Kent Police officers and staff participated in Target’s Heroes Helpers program last year to help children purchase gifts for their families. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police officers and staff participated in Target’s Heroes Helpers program last year to help children purchase gifts for their families. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Shop with a Cop program keeps giving

Effort, now in its fifth year, bonds police with children, families in need

Tired from pulling a graveyard shift, Kent Police Officer Diego Moreno would join his colleagues to do a little Christmas shopping with low-income children.

It’s just who he was.

Moreno and other officers volunteered their time each year at the Shop With a Cop holiday event at the East Hill Target store, helping kids purchase gifts for their families.

“Diego never missed one of these events,” Mayor Dana Ralph said of the program, now in its fifth year. “He would work … nonstop all night long … and then he would show up at Target, be paired with a child and spend the morning shopping with them to make sure they got the Christmas they deserved.

“Last year the child he was paired with got up to the checkout line with his basket full and didn’t have enough on the gift card (provided by the program) to get everything he wanted,” an emotional Ralph recalled. “Officer Moreno pulled out his wallet and paid for the things that child had picked out.

“That’s the type of person he was. The type of public servant that Officer Moreno was. He worked long hours to keep us all save. He gave up his own money for the kids in our community to make sure that they felt loved and compassion and knew that they belonged here.”

Moreno is gone, lost in the line of duty in July, but his spirit and the program live on.

The Shop with a Cop program – in coordination with Kent Police, Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) and Target – filled the baskets of 20 children in its first year.

And the generosity continues to grow.

The program, organizers said, has raised enough money through public donations – online and in the community – this year to support 50 identified and selected youth from the Birch Creek, Valli Kee and the Cascade communities. The campaign goal is to raise $2,500 this year to keep a good thing going.

Each child, with an officer’s help, receives a $100 gift card from KYFS to spend on gifts. Target exclusively opens its doors a couple of hours early for cops and kids to peruse the aisles and shop for gifts on a selected day each December.

Program leaders hosted a fundraising event at the Kent Senior Activity Center on Nov. 15, a dinner-and-dessert opportunity to raise money and spread the word.

“It’s been a really cool event, a really good thing to see,” Bailey Stober, program founder, told the crowd at the fundraiser. “I would like to thank those who have made it possible every year.”

Mike Heinisch, KYFS executive director, said the need is great to help economically disadvantaged children. The effort is worthwhile, with lasting impact, he said.

“We could always have more kids … to get an opportunity to see what a cop is all about,” Heinisch said. “Spending 45 minutes shopping with a cop is a special experience. … Hopefully, it’s something that makes a difference in their lives.”

Ralph said the program has been influential. Children, she said, have written letters to the Moreno family, describing how Diego left a lasting impression on them.

“And specifically, how he changed their lives,” Ralph said.

“It’s the most amazing day of the year for me,” she said of the event. “We can make a difference in kids’ lives and build relationships. … That’s why we do this.”

The public can donate to the cause by visiting kyfs.org.

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