For these needy kids, they’re Santa’s elves, not police officers

For some children, it’s their only opportunity to buy Christmas presents for their families.

Seeing the kids’ joy is what spurs so many Tacoma police officers to donate their time and money to Shop with a Tacoma Cop, which is in its 24th year.

“It’s about the kids getting to pick what they want to give — it’s their day,” said detective Elizabeth Schieferdecker, who helps coordinate the event. “These are such sweet kids. They want to buy for everybody but themselves.”

On Saturday (Dec. 20), uniformed officers will take their patrol cars to pick up 81 underprivileged children from their homes and take them to Target for a shopping spree.

The store opens early to accommodate the cops and kids, who pair up and take their time browsing aisles selecting Christmas gifts.

Each child receives a gift card but most officers usually contribute their own money to ensure the child they’re partnered with takes home what they want.

Volunteers are on hand to help wrap presents, refreshments are provided and children can hop onto Santa’s lap for a photo.

In October, each Tacoma school nominates three or four students, aged 7 to ll, to take part in the program. Then, volunteers call the families to see whether they’re interested in participating.

Once the Shop with a Cop board approves the nominees, the families are notified.

Schieferdecker said some parents sob in gratitude.

When the program began in Tacoma, it served about 50 children. That number has grown as more officers and members of the public have contributed. During the years, more than $125,000 has been raised to help more than 1,400 kids do their holiday shopping.

Many officers request to be paired with a child from the sector they patrol so they can continue to drop in on the family throughout the year.

“It’s not just for the day, it’s not just shopping,” police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said. “It’s building a relationship so the child has someone they can talk to.”