Keiki shop with cops

Mother: ‘This is the best Christmas ever’

Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu helps 2-year-old Konner Vierra and his mother, Amanda, pick out toys at the Shop With a Cop event Saturday at Kmart. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

KAHULUI — As a single mother waiting to start a new job, Wailuku resident Amanda Vierra had been saving presents to reuse as Christmas gifts this year.

But there was no shortage of new toy choices for her 2-year-old son, Konner, who was among children picking out presents with help from Maui police officers Saturday at Kmart.

“I think it’s the most amazing thing ever,” Vierra said, as Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu wheeled a shopping cart filled with toys and Konner through the store. “This is the best Christmas ever. It’s the first time I get to get him something.”

Sixty-two police officers, including recruits, turned out at 6 a.m. to volunteer for the annual Shop With a Cop event sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Kahului.

“It’s the highlight of our year for many of us,” said Richard Minatoya, club president.

Eleven-year-old Cornelius Aveado shows a remote-control vehicle to officer Brandon Phillips. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Now in its 13th year on Maui, the event has grown from 35 children a couple of years ago to 50 last year and 60 this year — the largest number in the state — said Bruce McDonald, a Kiwanis board member who started the program here in 2004.

Kmart opened an hour early for the event, providing breakfast for families and two wrapped gifts for each child. The store increased its contribution this year so each child received a $115 gift card to buy presents, McDonald said.

In addition to helping families selected by the Children’s Justice Center and other agencies, the event provided an opportunity for children to spend time with police officers, McDonald said.

“They get to see these officers are our friends,” McDonald said. “So they know they’re there to help us.

“It’s nice to see all these officers here. It’s the best day of the year for me. It’s fantastic.”

Eleven-year-old Jason Young leads the way with traffic investigator Ryan Ehlers at the Shop With a Cop event Saturday at Kmart. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Faaumu said the event “will benefit some of the families that are having some tough times.”

“It will give them a good holiday,” he said.

Before being invited to participate, Haiku resident Priscilla Felipe said she had planned to buy one Christmas present each for her 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“When they called me, I literally was emotional,” she said. “I totally bawled out.

“My son was so excited. He loves cops. Before we even start the car, he tells me, ‘Buckle up.’ “

DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau hands a “Frozen”-themed blanket to 2-year-old Kiyomi Sarmiento and mom Priscilla Felipe at the Shop With a Cop event Saturday at Kmart. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau and police recruit Nathan Lau helped Felipe and daughter Kiyomi Sarmiento pick out gifts, including a stroller and a “Frozen” blanket.

With three boys, Krau said he doesn’t have a lot of experience selecting gifts for girls.

But after learning Kiyomi likes the movie “Frozen,” Krau said, “We have something in common.”

After being a single mom for two years, Felipe said the children’s father is now “the stay-at-home dad.”

“It’s the hardest job in the world, but it’s the biggest blessing,” she said. “So I’m so blessed.

“I tell everybody don’t get me anything for Christmas. I just want my kids to be happy. I got my family for Christmas.”

Krau has volunteered for Shop With a Cop since it started. “It gives us a chance to have positive interaction with the community, with these kids and their families,” he said.

“In traffic, we do a lot of enforcement. It’s a very necessary part of our job,” Krau said. “This gives us the opportunity to do what we really like doing — helping people.

“You don’t make a lot of friends doing enforcement. Now I have a new friend.”

Wailuku resident Crystal Delapinia said sons Jashua, 7, Jeremiah, 10, and Jason Jr., 11, were excited to be there Saturday. “They were waking up every morning and asking for over a week now,” she said.

She is a “full-time house mom,” while the boys’ dad, Jason Young, “works seven days a week trying to keep afloat.”

“It’s kind of hard,” said Delapinia, who is expecting another child in February. “Christmas came by fast.”

Officer Ryan Saribay helped Jashua pick out a Nerf gun and other toys. “It’s giving back to the kids,” said Saribay, a Juvenile Section officer. “And the kids see us in a different light.”

While most children rushed to the toy aisles, 11-year-old Cornelius Aveado first picked out a plaid shirt, socks and “Batman vs. Superman” hat.

“He’s a sensible shopper,” said officer Brandon Phillips, who will get to see more of Cornelius next year when he attends Iao School, where Phillips is the school resource officer. “Now we can look for the fun.”

Cornelius added a radio-control car to his selections before checking out.

Some children were focused on finding gifts for family members before looking for purchases for themselves.

Before taking Konner to the checkout line with his toy police car and John Deere truck, Faaumu and partner Deborah Ross made a stop in the grocery aisle for a half-gallon and a smaller bottle of chocolate milk.

“I think he wants the chocolate milk more than anything else,” Faaumu said.

Like many of the other officers, he made up the difference when the purchases added up to more than the gift card amount.

Vierra said the event Saturday added to the seasonal joy for her family, which includes three other children.

“We got our own place. I’m getting a job. He has child care,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

Police traffic investigator Justin Mauliola helped Kylie Naganuma navigate the aisles with her 2-year-old son, KJ Gerard.

Shortly after 8 a.m., she was wheeling her son and a shopping cart filled with toys out of the store.

“We were so blessed,” she said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at