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‘Shop With a Cop’ returns to tradition

Police traffic investigator Ryan Ehlers helps 10-year-old Chante and 13-year-old Matty (left) look for gifts along with their mother, Tiare Alconcel, during the Shop With a Cop event Sunday at Walmart. “It’s nice to have the kids be able to do this again,” Alconcel said. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photos

KAHULUI — Even more than the toys filling a shopping cart, Kula resident Kahala Christophersen was thankful for a police officer who accompanied her two daughters through store aisles Sunday morning.

“This is really good for the kids,” she said, as Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai talked and laughed with the girls, ages 10 and 3, while helping wheel their cart through Walmart for the annual Shop With a Cop event.

The experience was helping her daughters feel comfortable and more familiar with police officers, in contrast with news her older daughter has heard about officers shooting and arresting people, Christophersen said.

“That’s not what they are all about,” she said. “They’re here to help. That’s the best part, for them to know they’re not bad, they’re there to protect you. They’re human. They’re nice people.”

After a drive-thru event last year, Shop With a Cop was back for its 18th year on Maui, continuing its tradition of pairing children in need with police officers to shop for Christmas presents.

Four-year-old Aili Pelayo-Reinhardt gets a hand from police DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau as she looks for gifts at Walmart during the annual Shop With a Cop event Sunday morning.

The nonprofit Friends of the Children’s Justice Center worked with Child Welfare Services and other organizations to select 50 children who were matched with 50 police officers who volunteered to help the children shop.

Each child received a wrapped gift and a $100 gift card to spend at Walmart, which provided a community grant as well as the location for the event.

“It’s literally the best day of the year,” said Bruce McDonald, a director and two-time past president of the Kiwanis Club of Kahului, which organizes the event.

Second Circuit Family Court Judge Adrianne Heely said the event helped bring back the spirit of the holiday season after a couple of difficult and challenging years.

“It’s so heartwarming to see the keiki and officers volunteering their time,” she said.

Ten-year-old Legasy Ferge-Christophersen gets a hug from police Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai while her 3-year-old sister, Liv, looks on. Holokai’s 14-year-old son, Keona, and 16-year-old daughter, Jordan, also helped the sisters pick out gifts at the annual Shop With a Cop event Sunday morning at Walmart.

“This is one of the most emotional days of my job,” said Paul Tonnessen, executive director of Friends of the Children’s Justice Center.” I cry every year. I want to let the healing begin.”

Police Assistant Chief John Jakubczak was volunteering for his last Shop With a Cop, as he prepares to retire and end a 34-year police career.

“This is the thing we look forward to just as much as the kids do,” he said. “You can see some of the officers are having just as much fun, if not more fun.”

That was apparent as Wailuku patrol officer Ryan Tsang tossed a ball with 4-year-old Reyna Pelayo-Reinhardt who sat in a shopping cart, while DUI Task Force officer Steven Landsiedel helped sister Kalee, 3, choose toys including a hula hoop and toy dog-grooming kit.

Another sister, 4-year-old Aili, tried on a bicycle helmet with help from DUI Task Force Sgt. Nick Krau.

Nine-year-old Makana Bryan tests out her new bicycle while heading to the checkout with officer Nolan Wada during the Shop With a Cop event Sunday morning at Walmart. Wada bought the bicycle for the girl, in addition to the purchases she selected with a $100 gift card.

“It’s a really great event. The kids are great,” said Tsang, who volunteered for the first time. “I’m definitely coming back next year.”

The girls’ mother, Tiani Reinhardt of Waiehu, said she was surprised by some of their toy choices.

She said the children were happy to be with the officers. “They think they’re superheroes, so they’re having a blast,” Reinhardt said.

Assistant Chief Holokai, who has turned out for Shop With a Cop for more than a dozen years, said officers from all sections of the department are eager to volunteer for the event. “Everybody knows how important it is,” he said.

With some of the children, “you can tell they don’t really get much,” Holokai said. “Some of them are hesitant to ask.”

Police Assistant Chief John Jakubczak helps 7-year-old Waihee resident Ruby Jerwan navigate the toy aisles at Walmart during the Shop With a Cop event Sunday morning.

“That’s what it’s about, building that relationship,” he said. “You don’t get that relationship by standing outside. They see us less as authority and more as friend, partner.”

As in past years, Holokai was accompanied Sunday by his 16-year-old daughter, Jordan, and 14-year-old son, Keona.

“It’s a good opportunity to give back,” said Jordan, a junior at Kamehameha Schools Maui. “It’s cool that the police get involved.”

Lt. Audra Sellers of the Community Relations Section said it was an opportunity for officers to spend time with children and their parents.

“I love this day,” she said. “It’s not only for the kids, it’s for the adults to see the interaction with the kids.”

Tiare Alconcel, whose girls were participating in Shop With a Cop for the third year, said the timing was right with daughter Chante turning 10 today.

“It’s a way to interact with people without the bad stuff that’s normally part of the job,” said police traffic investigator Ryan Ehlers, who helped Chante and 13-year-old Matty shop. “It’s a good interaction with the kids and the families.”

On top of the toys that 9-year-old Makana Bryan chose with her gift card, she left the store with a bicycle that officer Nolan Wada bought for her. “I wanted to make sure something’s from me,” Wada said.

“This is amazing,” said the girl’s mother, Stacey Bryan. “The bike was a real bonus.”

As a single mother, “it would have been tight” to buy so much, she said.

“This is a very happy moment,” she said.

Some officers, including Krau, Landsiedel and Tsang, gladly paid the difference when children’s purchases exceeded the $100 gift card amount.

Krau and Landsiedel showed up at the event just after finishing their work day early Sunday.

“It’s another way for us to give back to the community we love to serve,” Krau said. “It’s an honor to serve this community and a privilege to be able to spend this time with these kids during the holiday season.”

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

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