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All smiles in the aisles

It may have been freezing cold outside early Saturday morning, but inside the South Medford Walmart toy department, it was all warmth and smiles.

Some 15 Rogue Valley kids and their parents were invited to be part of “Shop with a Cop,” courtesy of the Ashand Police Department. Police personnel ranging from young cadet volunteers to Chief Tighe O’Meara took the kids around the store as each got to spend $100 on anything he or she wanted.

One tiny shopper carried a golden-colored puppy named “Princess Poppy” with her, while an aisle away, a young female cadet and a 6-year-old girl bonded over a love of cats. Cadet Courtney Roberts assisted Makena Farmer in selecting a colorful robot cat and a second, fluffier version.

“You’re going to have a whole litter,” Roberts told the girl.

“And they can totally play together because they’re both cats.”

The girl excitedly told her shopping pal, “I just really love cats!”

Roberts nodded, “I do, too!”

On an aisle decked out in all things Power Ranger, Ninja Turtle, trucks and toy weapons, Officer Matt Carpenter helped Makena’s little brother take a lesson in comparison shopping.

Assessing a cart brimming with construction trucks, weapons and super heroes, Carpenter asked, smiling at the excited boy, “If you had to put one back, which one would it be?”

“This one’s mine!” said Caden, 3.

At least a handful of times, phrases such as, “You know what? Let’s just do it!” or “I think we can work something out!” were uttered from the rows of brightly colored toys.

Jake Farmer, dad to Makena and Caden, carried his kiddos' winter coats with a smile. Farmer said the “Shop with a Cop” effort was heartwarming and appreciated.

A single dad since the tiny duo were 3 months and 3 years old, Farmer says the holidays are a lot to tackle.

“This is just a really great thing. I think they both got everything they wanted. I got them a couple things and this will just put them over ... they’re gonna be really happy campers,” he said.

Carpenter, following the confident toddler toward the cash register, said the annual shopping event is as much fun for officers as for the kids who are selected.

“I think I missed one, maybe two years, but I’d been doing it since Deputy Chief (Warren) Hensman started it for our department. It’s just a blast,” Carpenter said.

“Caden knew right away what he wanted and he went to find it. His sister, Makena, led us all right over to where the toy aisle was. Some years, the kids I’ve been with, it will take a while and they’re a little shy at first or they know maybe a few things they want. It can be overwhelming — you can have anything you want — but today we just hit the aisles and the cart was full in a matter of minutes.”

Yet another smiling face on Saturday, 6-year-old Rylie Pedersen, who loves to sing and dance, scored a karaoke machine. While her mom, Carrie Miller, helped assess the battery-vs.-power-cord situation and suggested some karaoke CDs, Rylie charmed cadet Brian Greidanus, 20.

“This is my first year and I was excited to be able to do this,” said Greidanus, who happens to be a singer, too.

“I enjoy giving back to my community. This was fun. Rylie just took control and showed me where to go,” he said.

Rylie said shopping with her chosen cop was “super duper fun!”

Rylie’s mom joked she'd hoped the young cadet could've seen what parents endure during holiday shopping.

“I’m a little upset, because I thought he was going to get a peek into what it’s like to be a mom in Walmart, but no, she was really easy this time,” Miller said with a laugh.

Hensman said he can’t imagine Christmas without the annual shopping event. Hensman jump-started the local effort when he came to the Rogue Valley from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department in 2010.

This year’s haul was made possible largely because of a $1,000 donation from Lithia Springs Rotary Club of Ashland in addition to other donations. Some Walmart shoppers even tried to force money on officers when they realized what was going on Saturday.

Hensman commended the day’s volunteers, who showed up to serve on their own time. Some of the volunteers' work shifts had ended just hours before the shopping began.

“Today was our eighth Shop with a Cop. It’s something we look forward to every year and it makes a difference for the families. It’s good for the kids and it’s good for the officers,” he said, adding the officers often use their own money to boost the shopping budgets of their selected kids.

“Our first year we had about 10 kids and we raised about $750, but most of the time the officers will chip in. I guarantee that more than the $1,450 we raised this year was spent this morning.”

He added, “It’s just what we do.”

For more information, or to donate to next year’s effort, visit the department online at www.facebook.com/ashlandpolicedept.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Kayla Hawkins, 9, of Ashland, and Ashland police Lt. Hector Meletich participate in the Shop with a Cop event at Walmart in Medford on Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]