December 14, 2011 | 08:01 AMLAKE GENEVA — On Saturday, it seemed a $150 Walmart shopping spree gave 8-year-old Raychel Caviness a workout.
One of 10 Brookwood School District students selected to participate in the Genoa City Police Department's Shop With A Hero program, Caviness often sprinted her way around shoppers from aisle to aisle. Accompanied Saturday by Genoa City police officer Mike Lauderdale, she selected items for her five sisters.
Then, the pair came across a display of plush bears which, when unfolded, became sleeping bags. Caviness smiled and said she loves bears.
"They have really sharp claws and they roar really loud," she said, laughing.
Caviness didn't forget to score some toys for herself, either. Not far from the sleeping bag bears, what she saw gave her a smile wide enough to drive through — a Bratz doll about half as tall as she is.
"This was on my list," Caviness exclaimed, patting the rectangular box as if it were a new pet.
But the Walmart shopping spree — one of a few activities during Police Department's third annual Shop With a Hero program — wasn't the highlight for her.
It was with whom she spent the afternoon.
"When I found out about this, I was really proud," Caviness said. "I never saw a cop for a long time, so I was excited. They're great heroes."
Lauderdale said most children don't see it that way. He said the reason he squeezes in time to participate in Shop With A Hero in between juggling part-time jobs with the Geneva Town Police and Elkhorn Fire departments is to help give people the "right" perception.
"A lot of kids nowadays think we're just there to arrest people," Lauderdale said. "Kids just picture us taking people to jail."
But he said it's not just about breaking down walls between police and the general public.
"This gives back to the community," Lauderdale said. "It helps out the kids."
Shop With A Hero became an annual event for local cops and firefighters a few years ago. In a Dec. 16, 2009, Regional News article, Steve Bappert said he saw other police departments conduct similar programs and "thought it was time to get this together and give something back."
In 2009, six children were selected for Shop With A Hero. On Saturday, there were 10. In an e-mail, Bappert stated that's the same number of children they had last year.
This prompted an important change to the event.
"Last year, I invited members of the Bloomfield-Genoa City Fire Department to help us shopping as we don't have enough police officers on staff and available," Bappert stated.
According to Bappert, Brookwood's teachers and counselors select the students who participate.
Last year, Bappert designed a logo for the event, which is printed on lunchboxes presented to the selected students. Inside the lunchboxes are items "ranging from water bottles to Frisbees," Bappert stated.
On Saturday, children, their parents, police officers and firefighter/EMTs met at Wayne's Pizza, Genoa City. Bappert stated Wayne's donated food for the event.
After a late lunch, the group reconvened at Walmart, where children were paired off with a "hero" so their shopping spree could begin.
It's not just a spree for the children. According to Bappert, this gives kids the chance to finish some holiday shopping for their family.
"Once their items are picked, some students really think about their gifts and make sure everyone in their family gets something, choosing their own gift last," he stated. "Some run straight for the big ticket items. (At the) checkout, we have more volunteers standing by to help wrap the presents before sending the students home."
To fund Shop With A Hero, Bappert stated he solicits donations from local businesses, most of them in Genoa City.
"Fifteen to 20 businesses have donated each year," he stated.
Other area groups, including the Genoa City Lions Club, also support Shop With a Hero.
The secret to its success appears to be the same reason officers like Lauderdale participate. He said his favorite part of Shop With A Hero is "just seeing the kids smile."
"One of the parents told me their kid kept asking them all day when they were going to go," Lauderdale said. "They really look forward to it."