SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The Shop with a Cop program has been around nationally for nearly 10 years, bringing presents and smiles to thousands of kids each year.
But in 2020, many local police departments that participate in the event had to pivot during the pandemic to make it happen.
That includes the Springfield Police Department which is now planning to deliver toys and clothing to families in need this weekend.
About a dozen officers have adopted 10 families that have 26 children.
Through community fundraising, the officers were given $100 to purchase items for each child. Many of the officers also pitched in their own money to buy additional gifts.
In years past, the children were picked up in a caravan of cruisers and driven to a store where they selected holiday gifts.
"It's something that the officers look forward to every year. It gives them an opportunity to engage with the kids one-on-one," said Chief Jack Simone.
However, social distancing concerns during the COVID-19 outbreak prevented the in-person shopping experience from happening.
Kate Thurston, the community police coordinator, has organized the event for the past couple of years and didn't want it to disappear this year.
"I just wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to make sure that these kids get what they deserve," Thurston said.
Around 10 a.m. on Saturday, a caravan of police cruisers will still form, but instead of driving kids to Walmart, the officers will bring items like dolls, games, trucks, bicycles, and Nerf guns to the homes of the families.
"Officers, with their masks on, are going to the child's home, give them their presents, maybe do photos, and Santa Claus is going to be there in a fire truck.
The chief said other community events were canceled this year because of the pandemic, including an Easter egg hunt, Safety Town, and a festival.
In a year where police officers have faced extra scrutiny nationally, the community connection through events like Shop with a Cop remains key.
"Because of what's going on nationally, these are things that we're still focused on locally because this pandemic has impacted so much of our community," Simone said.
Thurston said she's always touched by the heartfelt stories she hears from the families struggling in Springfield Township.
"They tell you things that you have no idea have been going on in the home, whether its job loss, sickness, or grandma has the kids," she said.
While Shop with a Cop has changed temporarily to delivery by a cop, the department feels the impact remains the same.
"It's emotional. You get a lot of tears. You get a lot of people that are just so thankful that someone is doing this for them," Thurston said.