Sheriff’s department raises record amount for family sponsorship program

NILES — On Saturday morning, 5-year-old Robert Collins, of Watervliet, could hardly choose from the overwhelming selection of remote control cars that packed the Walmart toy aisle. With a desire to find “the fastest car,” St. Joseph Public Safety officers Shnaildai Jean and Jason Yonker helped Collins on his mission as they examined toys up and down the aisle.

The officers were among many from the St. Joseph Police Force, Berrien County Sherriff’s Department and Berrien Springs Oronoko Township Police Department who braved the snow and cold early Saturday morning to participate in the annual Shop with a Cop program at the Niles Walmart.

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department sponsored 16 families, with a total of 37 children. The families were recommended for program through various school districts. The event was organized by Berrien County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Division, who raised a more than $9,000 for the program — the highest amount ever raised in the program’s more than 10-year tradition.

Program donations were supported by local businesses and community members. Thanks to their help, each family that was adopted by police officers got to spend $150 to purchase gifts for their loved ones. Families also received $75 to purchase household goods or a family style gift and Walmart allowed each child to pick a toy for free at a value of up to $20. Additionally, families also got a food basket valued up to $150.

To help capture the moment, children could have their picture taken with Santa Claus or McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog.

After completing their holiday shopping, families and officers were offered a meal at Subway and then headed to the Michiana Christian Embassy to wrap their gifts.

Berrien County Chief Deputy Robert Boyce has volunteered with the program for the past five years and said he enjoys the opportunity to give back to the community.

“It is something I will continue helping out with even after I retire. It is a great program,” Boyce said. “It is a heartwarming experience.”

He commended Berrien County Sheriff Reserve Deputies Kim Fedison and Katie Bauer for their efforts to help encourage the community to donate record amounts this year.

Boyce said he hoped the Shop with a Cop experience allowed families in need to have a happy holiday, while also encouraging them to give back to the community and help their own neighbors when they are able.   

The event has also traditionally been a way for officers to connect with local families, Boyce said.

“It is part of the community engagement between the police and the community,” Boyce said.

The Buchanan police and fire department also hosted their own Shop with a Cop Saturday morning and sponsored 14 children, who got to spend $100 or $50, depending on their age. The funds were donated by local businesses and community members.   

Like Boyce, Buchanan Police Sgt. Harvey Burnett also said bonding with their community members was an important part of the tradition.

“It is about relationships and that’s the most important part — building those positive relationships,” Burnett said. “We make it more about our heroes coming out to support the kids.”

Boyce said this year’s program was made a success through partnerships with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office chaplains, the Berrien Springs-Oronoko Township Police Department, the Saint Joseph City Department of Public Safety, the Fraternal Order of Police Explorers program, and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office Sworn Deputies.

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