by Mira Reverente
For some very fortunate Ventura children, Santa arrived a bit early this year.
Upon the recommendation of the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD), 22 school-aged children from local schools recently participated in the annual “Shop With a Cop” sponsored by the Ventura Police Department (VPD) at Wal-Mart on Victoria Avenue.
Among the participants was Jasmine, 8, who had a small notebook with her, complete with a wish list and notes from her mother. “I’m going to get my mom size 9 slippers and some arts and crafts supplies. She really wanted those,” said the second-grader.
Jasmine’s 14-year-old sister Arielle specifically asked for perfume, lotion and some belts. Grandma, who also wears a size 9, wanted shoes. “I think that’s it plus maybe something for my furry brother – our dog and some clothes for me,” said Jasmine, smiling widely and giving her list a once-over before turning to Officer Taylor Beacham.
Beacham, a three-year veteran at VPD, volunteered for the event for the first time and was paired with Jasmine. The pair hit it off right away, going over Jasmine’s shopping list, and checking it twice and were bantering like old friends before the evening was over.
Chief of Police Darin Schindler was pleased with that evening’s turn-out. “I know we’ve been doing this event for at least 10 years now, even before I became chief. I’m really proud of how much it has grown and how many officers and staff volunteer on their own time,” said Schindler, a 27-year veteran at VPD.
According to the chief, the size of this annual event largely depends on the department budget and involvement of the community. This year, donations poured in from the Police Community Foundation, the Optimist Club and other service clubs who are passionate about supporting youth in the community.
“Typically, we have 20 to 30 children participating every year, except last year due to Covid concerns,” said Emily Graves, community outreach specialist of the City of Ventura, Police and Fire Departments. “However, VPD officers still “played” Santa last year and delivered toys and gift cards to families in need.”
This year, every child was given a $175 “budget” to spend as they wish at Wal-mart. “Sometimes, the officers even pitch in when their shopping buddy goes over a bit,” said Chief Schindler.
Treats and snacks like cookies and hot cocoa were abundant as the children, officers and support staff assembled and “strategized” before hitting the aisles. Some officers and staff came with their spouses or significant others and tag-teamed as they shopped and helped wrap presents before sending the children home.
For children like Jasmine, the joy of shopping, wrapping and giving presents to their loved ones was sheer happiness and something they’ll never forget. Santa does come early in some parts of the world.