Shop with a Cop

Towson Police Officer Jason Sherfey, right, helps Juwuan Stokes, 11, shop for a watch for his dad at Walmart during Shop with a Cop in Cockeysville on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (Jen Rynda, Patuxent Homestead / December 7, 2012)

Thirteen-year-old Octavio Vazquez had $100 to spend this past weekend at the Cockeysville Wal-Mart, but he really wasn't looking for something for himself.

As he roamed the aisles with Baltimore County Officer Michael Schmitz Jr., of the Wilkens Precinct, he was intent on using most of the $100 gift card donated by area Optimists Clubs to purchase presents for his brother, uncle and grandparents.

"I'm trying to get gifts for those that give gifts to me," Octavio said. "I think they'll feel good about the things I got for them."

The spirit of giving was all around the Wal-Mart for the 11th annual Shop with a Cop program, bringing dozens of children from across Baltimore County to shop with men and women in blue on Saturday, Dec. 8.

The children had the opportunity to pick out Christmas presents for themselves — but it didn't exactly turn out that way. While some of the 113 youngsters selected favorite toys and clothes, most seemed more intent on making Christmas a merrier experience for family members.

"It's very meaningful to walk around and spend time with Octavio," Schmitz said. "He even wanted to get me a Christmas present with his own money. He really doesn't want to buy anything for himself, but wants to buy for his own family members. It means a lot to me to know that other people want to give back, too."

Octavio has been on the receiving end before and intended to make this Christmas special for others.

"I'll probably still get some gifts for me, but it seems weird that I'm this old and I'm not getting other people gifts," Octavio said.

Baltimore County's Shop with a Cop program began 11 years ago when Kim Coles, a marketing manager for Outback Steakhouse approached Michael Schmitz of the Essex Precinct — father of Michael Schmitz Jr. — to ask about partnering with the program.

"We had to raise money, and then select the children to take shopping," said the elder Schmitz, who on Saturday was stationed near one of the front doors of the Cockeysville Wal-Mart.

"We started that (first) year with 25 kids," he said. "The Optimist Club stepped up and offered to raise all the money for the program, but they wanted us to help 100 kids. From there, we formed the partnership with Outback, the Optimists and Wal-Mart."

Towson Precinct Officer Gary Doucette can't imagine not being involved with the Shop with a Cop program. He came on board at the beginning.

"I wanted to show the kids another side of police work," said Doucette, who coordinates the Towson precinct's effort and was shopping with a youngster from Parkville. "Instead of seeing us lock up people, here they can see how we help kids. It's great that we can do this."

Officer James Saunders, of the Wilkens Precinct, was having his first experience with Shop with a Cop. He had wanted to participate before now, but was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on three previous occasions and simply wasn't available.

"I love kids and want to make sure that I give back," said Saunders, who temporarily surrendered his police hat to his young shopping mate. "After being (overseas), I don't take things for granted. I want to make sure that I'm doing something positive for every moment of the day."

Saturday's festivities began with a 7 a.m. motorcade from each participating precinctup Interstate 83 to Cockeysville.

Upon arrival at Wal-Mart, they were greeted by familiar Christmas tunes being played by the Dulaney High School band.

"It seemed like there were more kids this year," said Shelby Hall, a Dulaney trombonist who was performing at Shop with a Cop for her fourth year. "Part of the beauty of Christmas is that everybody loves it. It's a fun time of year."

Before 8 a.m., police officers and kids were making their way through the aisles. Officer Carey Kus of the Dundalk Precinct was looking for lip gloss with her 7-year-old partner for the morning

"It makes the kids happy," said Kus, who was missing her own daughter's youth soccer game to help the children. "This whole experience is very humbling."