Forest Park second-grader Theo Christo talked about nothing but Shop With a Cop for weeks as it approached.
“He was looking forward to it so much,” said his mother, Samantha Christo. “I don’t remember the last time he was so excited about something.”
The day started at the Westchester Police Department on Dec. 14, where a few dozen kids from Westchester, Bellwood, Maywood and Forest Park, including Theo, gathered with police officers from those same communities for donuts and photo opportunities.
From Westchester, at least 30 squad cars from the participating towns, with the kids riding along, drove in a procession down Roosevelt Road — sirens blaring — to the Walmart at 1300 Desplaines Ave. in Forest Park.
At Walmart, the kids partnered with officers and, using gift cards purchased with donations from local businesses and organizations, did some holiday shopping. A pizza lunch rounded out the day.
Shop With a Cop is organized by Westchester Police Chief Steve Stelter, who has been running the event for 22 years, initially in DuPage County, then Brookfield, and in Westchester for the past four years.
This year, said Stelter, at least 30 children participated from all four suburbs. Coordinators from each police department worked with local school districts to identify and select kids who would benefit from the opportunity.
“The best part about this event is how thankful the parents are,” said Stelter. “There’s such an inner joy we get from helping families.”
Forest Park Officer Dan Miller, who coordinated the event through the Forest Park Police Department, mirrored Stelter’s sentiments.
“It’s fun to be able to offer kids an opportunity they might not otherwise have,” said Miller, who walked around Walmart with Theo, Detective Heveran and Madison, Miller’s police dog, shopping for toys and gifts. The four of them spent a good amount of time examining and comparing different Nerf guns before selecting one.
In Forest Park, four kids, including Theo, got to shop at Walmart, with money donated from two Forest Park businesses: Nobs Towing (1510 Hannah Ave.), owned by Robert Nabicht, and Hawk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (7911 Roosevelt Rd), managed by Joe Crane.
After shopping, the kids had a pizza lunch from Bertolli’s in River Forest, which opened early and offered a hefty discount to help make the event possible.
“Officer Miller was so nice,” said Samantha Christo. “This whole event was so good for Theo.” When asked what Theo’s favorite parts of the day were, Christo said he liked getting a new bike, but meeting Madison was special too.
It was Madison who stole the show at the Westchester PD, drawing the attention of kids who wanted to pet her, take photos with her and ask questions about the kind of work she does.
Other than Madison, participants from the Forest Park Police Department included Chief Aftanas, Deputy Chief Ken Gross, Detective Jarlath Heveran, Officers Dan Miller, Michael O’Connor and Daysi Riglos, and LaShan Riggins, records clerk and evidence custodian.