The children were selected by School Resource Officer Sgt. Paul Favreau based on a child being in a particularly stressful family situation that would otherwise preclude the holiday cheer. They were assembled at the Windsor police station, then shuttled up to this Lebanon store.
This is the fourth year Sampson has done the activity in Vermont, but did it previously for many of the years he served as a detective in Florida, he said.
“Down there, we had Shop With a Cop and it was a whole different environment,” Sampson said. “Some kids became entitled…[here] I’m trying to keep this to kids who are in a really bad situation…[a parent who] lost a job, or had an illness.”
Sampson watches while a little girl selects a stuffed cat doll, which is friendly or fearsome, depending on how you hold it. Other children choose other types of dolls, or air guns, jewelry, or other things. Some choose things for their brothers or sisters, their friends, or themselves.
The kids are clearly enjoying themselves, showing off their selections to one another. But they also keep their uniformed escorts hopping in the toy aisles. After all, there are a lot of toys to choose from.
Along with Sampson and Favreau, Officers Brian Berry and D. Brown also accompanied the kids as they prowled the Walmart aisles, along with Sampson’s wife Tracy, who works in the Windsor school.
Some curious shoppers say hello, and say thank you to the officers. With shopping carts loaded with goodies, the convoy heads for the registers, where store associates are ready and waiting for them.
Sampson remembers a child from a previous year who was only interested in getting a gift for his mother, not himself. “Let me try to find something for my mother … I don’t need anything,” he quotes him. “Nice, nice kid.”