Shoppers arriving at the Bush River Road Walmart Saturday morning found an entryway packed with police officers Saturday morning, but there was no cause for alarm. The officers were not there to enforce the law. They came to go beyond the call of duty and give to those in need, for no reason except that when these men and women see people who need help, they do all they can to provide it.
The officers were all local members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and they assembled for the 28th year to make sure dialysis patients and their families have presents under their Christmas trees.
“These dialysis patients, people don’t understand, many of them just aren’t able to work,” said FOP Midlands Lodge No. 1 Vice President Dave Black. “We take them shopping, make sure the kids have something.”
The officers work all year to collect donations for the Shop with a Cop event, and this year 20 families were invited, with a total of 42 children under 12. Each family included an adult dialysis patient. The officers included members of law enforcement agencies from all over the Midlands. They provided the families with backpacks and other school supplies in addition to the shopping trip.
Black, a Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputy and a 46-year law enforcement veteran, helped start the event after his wife, a nurse, told him about the struggles of dialysis patients under her care. Police officers are, by and large, not rich. Raising thousands of dollars is anything but easy. Still, year after year, they find a way.
“We look forward to it. I think I get as excited as they do,” said Robbie Thompson, a social worker who helps coordinate the event each year. “People are on hard times when they’re ill. This helps a lot.”
Each family received a $160 gift card and was paired with an officer for the shopping trip. For the kids, like 6-year-old Lillian Breedlove and her sister Rosalie, 5, troubles were forgotten when FOP Midlands Lodge No. 1 President Dale Jones arrived. Jones, on this morning, exchanged his Richland County Sheriff’s Department blue uniform for a red and white one.
Jones as Santa Claus arrived not in a sleigh but in a sheriff’s department SUV, and entered through the doors rather than down the chimney, but the kids had no trouble recognizing their holiday hero. Lillian and Rosalie accepted the candy canes he offered, then Lillian asked for a hug, and got it.
“Friendly smiles,” Black said. “That’s what it’s all about.”