With sirens blaring, dozens of police cars sped toward the Wal-Mart at Eastwood Towne Center in Lansing around 9 a.m. Saturday — to the delight of about 100 local children.
Although the sight might have been concerning to those unaware of the morning’s events, children such as 7-year-old East Lansing resident Furqan Malik and his brother, 5-year-old Abdullah Malik, were overjoyed to ride in the procession as a part of this year’s Shop with a Cop event.
The annual program is coordinated by community and law enforcement volunteers to provide support to underprivileged children during the holiday season.
As part of this year’s event, about 100 children rode with law enforcement to Wal-Mart, where each child was allowed to pick out about $100 worth of presents for themselves and family members, eat lunch with an officer and take pictures with Santa Claus.
The event, funded by community donations, was particularly exciting for Furqan Malik, son of doctoral student Batool Atta, whose eyes glowed with excitement when he finally purchased the orange Furby he’s wanted for so long.
“He’s going to remember this for a long time,” said MSU police Officer Andrew Rathbun, who escorted Furqan Malik during the event. “(The event) is all about selfless service — that basically defines what law enforcement does.”
Many officers, such as Rathbun, ended up paying the difference when the children’s selections totaled more than the allocated $100, but Rathbun said he didn’t mind. The difference was only about $6.73, but he and most other officers would pay the difference even if it were $50, Rathbun said, beaming.
This is a typical attitude of most officers, event coordinator and East Lansing Police Department Technology and Information Supervisor Heidi Williams said, adding the program sometimes has extra money to spend on children who go a couple of dollars over the limit.
“A lot of these kids will not buy for themselves,” Williams said. “(But) that’s really hard for us to see, (and) the officers will graciously (spend) their own money so the kids can get something for themselves.”
Officers said the money is well spent when they see the children’s exuberant reactions. The difficulties in life seemed forgotten by many participating children, including 6-year-old Tyjannae Smith, who twirled and skipped down the aisles after Santa Claus offered her a second free present: a small stuffed animal she ecstatically said she would give to her sister.
Atta, an international student from Pakistan, was particularly thankful for the time dedicated by officers from across all Ingham County police agencies. As an MSU student with two young boys and a 4-month-old baby, her family does not have much money to get the kinds of presents Furqan and Abdullah Malik see their classmates receiving during the holiday season.
Lansing resident Cassandra Thompson, also the mother of a participating child, said this event was important to create positive memories for children who are struggling emotionally or financially. Thompson’s own children recently have been dealing with their father’s imprisonment, she said.
“It’s good that they can know cops are not scary,” Thompson said. “They’re friends.”