Shop with a Cop gives kids store-aisle sprees

KAHULUI – Kelley LeFort breathed a sigh of relief outside her van after loading up her three foster care children, an adopted son and two shopping carts full of presents early Sunday morning.

Fewer than 10 minutes earlier, she and her husband, Dennis, had experienced their first Shop with a Cop event. Their children and other keiki chose whatever toys and clothes they wanted, while being escorted by Maui police officers in Kmart.

“We have never participated in something like this, and for some of these kids they’ve never had a Christmas, so it’s really awesome,” she said.

About 35 children, ages 1 to 18, participated in the annual charity event organized by the Kiwanis Club of Kahului. Each was given a $100 gift card for shopping and a gift from Santa.

All of the young shoppers were from Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui, a nonprofit that helps children and families traumatized by abuse and severe neglect.

One of those children was the LeForts’ 19-month-old son, Dominic, adopted this year.

“He was a heroin baby,” Dennis LeFort said. “He was born addicted to heroin.”

Dominic LeFort was all smiles on Sunday, pointing at toys for his escorts, Sgt. William Hankins and Hankins’ wife, Shantell, to grab off of shelves. Holding a Mega Bloks toy set, with a motorized toy truck beside him, Dominic appeared to be content with the sergeant’s work.

“I have two sons so if I had a little girl I would’ve been lost,” Hankins joked.

Although this is the first time the LeForts had participated in the event, they have fostered 23 children over the past seven years in their small home in Kihei. The couple have worked with therapists, teachers, four or five different schools, the court system and nine different social workers, Dennis LeFort said.

“A lot of time it’s all these kids have,” he said of foster care parents. “You know their parents’ lives are so messed up that if you get one, you get a chance to give them some love and hopefully they’ll learn something in your family.”

About 50 police officers and recruits volunteered to help the young shoppers, including personnel from the Juvenile Section, the Receiving Desk and Special Response Team.

Assistant Chief Victor Ramos, who has participated in the event several times before, escorted Baldwin High School junior Scottie Hayman as he went from aisle to aisle grabbing items such as a jacket, a pair of glasses and a mouthpiece for rugby.

“This is fun,” Hayman said while waiting at the cash register with his new presents. “This calmed my mom down, and we can go to church after.”

As a child, Hayman was left behind by his father and never knew his biological mother. Ramos said interacting with struggling children and families serves as a reminder of thankfulness and also a way to help troubled teenagers.

“I was just talking with one officer . . . who recognized a teenager right away because he had arrested her a bunch of times,” he said. “So it’s nice to see them in this setting.”

As the LeFort family and others exited the store Sunday morning, none looked bleary-eyed despite having arrived before 6 a.m.

“It most definitely was worth it,” Kelley LeFort said. “The kids that have to be away from their parents during this time of year is hard enough for them, but to be able to bless them like this is amazing.”

Catholic Charities, Child Welfare Services and Central Pacific Bank helped sponsor the event with the Kiwanis Club and Kmart. The club raises funds year-round to host the event and meets at noon every Tuesday at Cary & Eddie’s Hideaway restaurant in Kahului.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at

* This article includes a correction from the original published on Monday, Dec 9, 2013. The Shop with a Cop event at Kmart was organized by the Kiwanis Club of Kahului. The incorrect club was credited in this story.