Amy Green and her son Anthony, of Westminster, spent Tuesday afternoon with city police Chief Jeff Spaulding, who helped Anthony pick out school supplies to place in a "Star Wars" backpack.
"Have fun, my friend," Spaulding said as he helped Anthony adjust the straps of the filled pack, which Anthony will soon carry to his first day of kindergarten.
The three were participants in the Shop with a Cop Back to School Kickoff, a partnership between The Shepherd's Staff, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the Westminster Police Department. The Shepherd's Staff, a Christian outreach and support center, worked to organize the event and register families in need. All of the supplies were donated by the law enforcement organizations.
Westminster police Sgt. Radcliffe Darby, who helped plan the police side of the event, said it takes several months to prepare for Shop with a Cop Back to School Kickoff. For him, however, the volunteer hours are worth it.
"This is the best part of police work," he said. "It's a blast to work with the kids."
Sgt. Deborah Pujals Keyser of the Westminster Auxiliary Police added that it is important for kids to see adults volunteering in their community. Her own son has volunteered with the Shop with a Cop program in the past.
She likes that the program helps the community see that "an officer is not only a job or the law, but also a person," she said. In addition to helping kids fill their packs, she translated for Spanish-speaking families so they could participate in the event.
Along with the backpacks and school supplies, the event offered families lunch donated by vendors, a snowball stand, vouchers for back to school shoes from Payless and the chance to get a free haircut from a booth run by volunteers from The Spa on West Main.
The haircuts were a new addition to the program.
Brenda Meadows, executive director of the Shepherd's Staff, said the sign-up for the event filled up in two weeks, much faster than last year. In addition, they were able to register 22 more children than last year, bringing the total to 152.
Sherri Katz, who recently moved to Westminster from Baltimore County, said, "they definitely don't do anything like this where I'm from."
"It's amazing that they do all this," Katz said. She said her son is normally shy but by the time he filled his backpack, he was smiling and talking with the officer.
Master Deputy Demonte Harvey said, "I haven't seen a frown yet," toward the end of the afternoon, after helping six families fill their backpacks. He said the program is important because "when these kids get older, they can look at [law enforcement officers] with a positive image."
"The kids really get to interact with the officers," she said. "That's a blessing."
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said he gives his business card to each child he works with at the event and tells them that if they email him, he will come visit their classroom. Being able to say they know the sheriff is exciting for most kids.
"It's made them feel pretty empowered," he said.
Because of the number of volunteers, each of the 152 children was able to walk through with an officer. Meadows was thankful for all that the agencies bring to the program.
"The positive energy around this is what makes it so incredible," she said.