MANSFIELD - For two decades now, Richland County's Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has been helping children in the community with new clothes for the school year.
What may seem like a simple shopping trip at Wal-Mart has lasting impressions for children in the community who benefit from the "Cops & Kids" program, organized by the local FOP's William J. Taylor Lodge #32. Lodge president, Ret. Sgt. Mike Bammann, said 107 kids came to shop with a cop on Sunday.
"We're also celebrating the lodge's 80th birthday this year," Bammann noted.
When the program began 20 years ago, participants in Cops & Kids would meet at the FOP lodge hall at 315 Concord Ave. before heading out to shop at Wal-Mart in Ontario. With the opening of the Wal-Mart on Possum Run Road, the program had room to expand.
"Wal-Mart has been a partner from the beginning," Bammann said. "Now they provide the space, refreshments for the kids and families."
Cops & Kids also partners with the Richland County Children's Auxiliary, which also runs The New Store in Mansfield. The Auxiliary and the Richland County Kinship program provide the names of the children who come to shop.
On Sunday, more than 100 children from throughout the county came to shop at Wal-Mart. Bammann explained each child was given a voucher ranging from $100 to $150 to be used as cash, and given the freedom to shop and pick out their own clothing.
"When you get kids shopping and they say this is the first pair of shoes they have that someone didn't wear before them, it's unbelievable," Bammann said. "And it's not just a giveaway, they actually get to shop. And we want them to spend every last dime."
Funding for Cops & Kids comes from a telephone solicitation fundraiser over five weeks organized by the FOP. Last year, Bammann said the community raised a little more than $16,000 to clothe children in need.
"People in this county are so generous," Bammann said. "Even in the worst of times, our fundraising efforts here have always been great."
Generosity in the community extends beyond community members. At least 45 volunteers, including law enforcement members and their families, showed up on Sunday to accompany kids on their shopping trip.
For Aretha Grier, the experience of shopping with a police officer was extra special. She explained that Mansfield Assistant Chief Keith Porch was shopping with her nephew when the little boy started to get bored looking at all the clothes.
"He told (my nephew), 'I'm bored too, let's go look at the toys,'" Grier said of Porch. "And he ended up buying him a toy with his own personal money. That just meant so much to me."
It's this kind of relationship between law enforcement officers and the youngest members of the community that Bammann sees on display all day during Cops & Kids.
"Contrary to some popular opinion, law enforcement has always been involved in the community,"he said. " It's a natural thing for us."