Christmas comes early for children in need who shop with a cop

Annual event provides joy for police as well as Maui families and keiki

Traffic investigator Justin Mauliola pushes a shopping cart for 5-year-old Cali Amasiu, who was joined by her mother, Kim Ulep (left), and aunt Marissa Kochi at the Shop With a Cop event Saturday morning at Target. “If she’s making trouble to him, that’s a good sign,” Kochi said. -- The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

KAHULUI — As she waited to pick out gifts Saturday morning at Target, 10-year-old Chaziah Tabon-Sniffen was worried about shopping with a police officer.

 “I’m scared,” she said. “I want a girl police.” 

About an hour later, after maneuvering through the store aisles with help from Maui Police Department officer Christopher Clark, the Wailuku Elementary School 4th-grader was excited.

“It was fun,” she said, showing off a shopping cart filled with toys including foam beads and a bracelet maker. “I got to get whatever I want.”

Her 11-year-old brother, Hezekiah Tabon-Sniffen, gave a thumbs up to Sgt. Kamuela Mawae and his 6-year-old son, Micah, who helped Hezekiah pick out toys.

Five-year-old Journey Barcai, accompanied by Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu, gets a gift from Santa at the Shop With a Cop event Saturday at Target. Faaumu, who helped Journey shop at the event a couple of years ago, said the girl told him she wants to be a police officer. -- The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Holding two dodge balls at the checkout line, Hezekiah said he felt “like I’m rich.”

Christmas came early for dozens of children who were paired with police officers for the annual Shop With a Cop event, now in its 15th year on Maui.

After 35 children last year, the event grew to 54 children Saturday.

“It’s twice as big,” said Scott Hayes, store manager of Target, which hosted the event for the second year and provided bananas and Cuties for the children.

“It’s a great experience,” Hayes said. “I love the whole meaning behind this, of the kids getting positive interaction with the police officers. It gives them time to really connect with them.”

Sgt. Kamuela Mawae and his 6-year-old son, Micah, check out with purchases for 11-year-old Hezekiah Tabon-Sniffen during the Shop With a Cop event Saturday at Target. -- The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Each child received a $100 gift card to spend at Target, as well as a personalized gift from Santa.

“It’s the best day of the year period, bar none,” said Bruce McDonald, president-elect of the Kiwanis Club of Kahului, which sponsors the event. “Look at these kids, all the smiles.”

The Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui worked with Child Welfare Services and other organizations to select the children, including some who are in foster care.

Along with the children and their families, 60 MPD officers — including members of the 88th Recruit Class — showed up before the store opened for the event.

“It wasn’t hard getting them to volunteer for this very worthy cause,” said Maui police spokesman Lt. Gregg Okamoto. “It’s something that we look forward to every year.”

Seven-year-old Messiah Sniffen gets a ride in a shopping cart while Maui police officers Kenneth Carroll (left) and Jonathan Honda help the 2nd-grader pick out gifts at Target during the Shop With a Cop event. -- The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

When the shopping began, Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu was directed to the toy section by 4-year-old Zayna, who had a princess kitchen set on her shopping list.

Kahului resident Ku’ulei Namoku, who has had custody of Zayna since October, said she wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy toys for her niece and get gifts for other nieces and nephews.

“It’s awesome that she’s with the chief of police,” said Corrinna Namoku, who also accompanied her grandniece. “In the beginning, she was, like, I don’t want to go with the officer. I said it’s OK. She seems to enjoy it.”

Faaumu, who has regularly volunteered for Shop With a Cop, was reunited with 5-year-old Journey Barcai after helping her shop at the event a couple of years ago when she was a baby.

“She says she wants to be a police officer,” Faaumu said, jokingly telling another officer to “sign her up.”

The last time, Journey was shopping with her mother, said the girl’s father, Kekoa Barcai, who recently got custody of Journey and sisters Honesty, 4, and Legacy, 18 months.

He said the family is living at Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center and didn’t have any toys.

Without the event Saturday, “We wouldn’t be able to have a Christmas,” said Barcai, a single parent.

“I just came out of jail,” he said. “It’s been a struggle for the past six months, but it’s awesome. I’m so blessed to have all three of them.”

Barcai said he hesitated when the family arrived at Target on Saturday and “I seen all the cops.”

“But I’m in a different mode,” he said. “I’m in a different era. It wasn’t too much of a hesitation.

“The officers have been very wonderful, been very helpful.”

Sunshine Puaoi said she was “very grateful” that her three children — 5-year-old Kaimalie, 3-year-old Kailea and 1-year-old Kaimana — had the opportunity to shop with police officers.

“For me, it’s a good experience because I was a troubled kid,” said Puaoi, a single parent who has been at Malama Family Recovery Center. “To see the cops with the kids, it pushes me to want to raise them up better.

“The next time they see them in their adult life, they’re not getting arrested by them, but seeing they going have a good life versus my life using drugs,” she said. “To see them with cops, it makes me happy.”

After helping Kaimalie pick out  Shopkins and L.O.L Surprise! toys, Sgt. Greg Rowe said, “It’s rewarding, good to give back.”

Rowe and other Traffic Section officers have regularly volunteered for the event.

“It’s a good give-back opportunity for all of us,” said traffic investigator Justin Mauliola.

When the kids’ gift selections exceed the $100 gift card, officers paid for the difference.

Faaumu said it was an opportunity for the officers to “show the families the other side of who we are, humanize our profession.”

“It’s a good feeling,” he said.

Wailuku resident Andy Sniffen, foster parent to his three grandchildren, Hezekiah Tabon-Sniffen, Chaziah Tabon-Sniffen and Messiah Sniffen, said the children went to bed at 7 Friday night so they could get up in time to be at Target by 6 a.m.

“We buy things they need,” Sniffen said. “Right now, they can buy what they want.”

“The kids really enjoyed themselves,” he said after the shopping was done and bags were being wheeled out of the store.

He thanked Target, the Police Department and event organizers.

 “At least the kids now not going be afraid of the policeman,” Sniffen said. “They can always share when something goes wrong.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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