GREENFIELD — Five-year-old Joshua Yates ran up to Jeff Rasche and tapped his little finger on the Greenfield police chief’s knee.
“Hey! Are you a policeman?” Joshua shouted up at Rasche, taking in his uniform. “Are you?”
Rasche crouched down to speak with the child, beaming as he did so. Rasche told the little boy, yes, he is a police officer, and he’s so pleased to meet him.
They chatted for a short time. Joshua told Rasche all about a toy truck he’d purchased that day and planned to play with when he got home. Then he darted away, leaving Rasche smiling and laughing in his wake.
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Interactions like these were abounding at the Greenfield Walmart over the weekend as about 60 local children in need, like little Joshua, took shopping sprees with the help of local law enforcement.
More than 20 kids from around Hancock County went shopping with deputies and other personnel from the county sheriff’s department Saturday. Another 40 took a turn darting through the aisles on Sunday with Greenfield Police Department officers.
Both programs — the county’s Shop with a Deputy and Greenfield’s Cops-4-Kids — aim to help struggling families during the holiday season. Organizers spend all year fundraising to ensure they can help as many kids as possible.
In total, the agencies spent about $20,000 this year. Each child who participated was given $300 to spend on clothing, toys and other needs.
The programs are December traditions for area public safety departments.
The Fortville Police Department and Vernon Township firefighters took kids from the county’s northwest side shopping on Dec. 2. And on Saturday, officers from the Hancock County Jail, Hancock County Community Corrections and the Indiana State Police lent a hand in shopping alongside sheriff’s deputies.
It’s an opportunity, the officers say, to interact with the youngest members of the community they work to protect. So often, they’re tossed into a child’s life during a scary time. But during the holiday, they can simply focus on bringing joy, on sharing smiles and laughter.
Tracy Shaw and Richard Masters, who work as field officers for the county’s community corrections program, partnered together to take 2-year-old Levi Williams shopping Saturday during Shop with a Deputy.
Though he sat still and was well behaved in his shopping cart, Levi was anything but docile.
As Shaw and Masters rolled him through rows of toddler-sized clothing, the little boy took the lead in deciding which pieces he wanted to take home that day. He’d survey the piles momentarily before reaching out and grabbing for the shirts or pants he decided were his favorite.
He did all the work on his own, Shaw joked.
“We’ve got the best shopper here,” she said. “He just picks up what he wants and throws it in the cart.”
Down the toy department a short while later, Sgt. Missy Wilcher, one of the county’s jail officers and chief organizer of Shop with a Deputy, burst out in laughter.
She’d been holding 16-month-old, trying to calm the little boy after he’d been overcome with tears, when the cellphone in her pocket pinged with a text message from sheriff’s Capt. Robert Campbell.
“Help. Women’s department,” Wilcher said, reading aloud the message from Campbell, who’d been assigned to shop with a preteen girl.
Wilcher and sister, Amy West, who also works for the sheriff’s department, giggled for a while before West headed off to Campbell’s aide.
It’s a Cops-4-Kids tradition to have a Greenfield police officer or department volunteer dress up as Santa Claus during the annual shopping trip. And Sunday morning, Capt. Brian Guinn got the job.
Dressed in a red suit and bright white beard, he handed candy canes to Angelica Dahes and her brother, Roman, and chatted with them about what they were most looking forward to about Christmas. Then he waved as they headed toward the door to go home.
Until next year.