Western Rockingham County's annual Shop with a Cop event is postponed until July 2021 because of coronavirus precautions, so the police chiefs for Madison, Mayodan and Stoneville had to get a little creative.
"All three of our departments work closely together, and we have a great relationship with our community, which is a blessing in today's climate," said Charles Caruso, police chief for the Town of Mayodan. "We wanted to still reach out to our community (during the pandemic)."
The three police departments will host a free hot dog drive-thru from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Madison Police Department. Social distancing will be observed, and masks will be worn. Members of the community may drive by for a hot dog, chips and bottle of water. There is a limit of one hot dog per vehicle occupant. Donations will also be accepted to benefit Shop with a Cop.
Madison's Police Chief Jason White said the departments hope to hold two Shop with a Cop events next year - the one in July, as well as the one normally held in December before the holidays.
Begun by the Madison, Mayodan and Stoneville police departments with numerous community partners in 2012, Shop with a Cop was initiated to create positive interactions between officers and younger generations. Open to elementary school students who live in the western Rockingham communities, Shop with a Cop has grown from serving four or five students its first year to around 10 to 12 students. Usually 15-20 police officers take students, chosen by their school staff, to shop at Walmart for holiday gifts for their siblings and parents. Donations from local businesses make the shopping possible.
"We have a very supportive community," said Frank Moore, Chief of Police for the Town of Stoneville. "This is something we all look forward to each year, and it makes me feel awesome, as you can see the excitement on the kids' faces."
"This event is a great way to create a positive bond with our younger generation," he said.
Rather than cancel Shop with a Cop this year, the three police chiefs opted to postpone the event, citing the importance of continuing interactions with students.
"We hope to provide the students with something positive and hope that it will provide the students with a better outlook with interactions with law enforcement," White said.
All three men believe events such as the hot dog drive-thru and Shop with a Cop benefit the children greatly.
"Interacting with these kids at a young age and them seeing us in a positive light and as a friend is important," Caruso said.
Each year after Shop with a Cop, officers continue to meet with their students by eating lunch at school with them or meeting with them at sporting events after school.
"We strive to find new ways to interact with our past participants each year," White said. "I still see and meet with some of the students that I personally participated with over the years."
All three police chiefs agreed that Shop with a Cop is one of several community outreach programs they will strive to continue.
"We want to make sure that our kids know that our officers truly care for each and every one of our participants," White said. "I feel that keeping our officers involved within the community having positive interactions is crucial for the success in any department."
Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.