Plenty of police officers and squad cars with flashing lights hit the Walmart in Round Lake Beach on Monday night, but it had nothing to do with crime.
For the 17th consecutive year, the Round Lake Park Police Department operated Lake County's original Shop with a Cop program. About 85 children from low-income families participated and received everything from necessities such as warm winter coats to toys through private donations raised by Round Lake Park police.
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While each child had $100 to spend with their new officer pals leading them around the Walmart, Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko told the volunteers not to worry if the tab ran a little over. Officers had calculators to keep a running total.
"These are tough times," Filenko said, "but these are the kids with the toughest times."
After meeting at W.J. Murphy Elementary School in Round Lake, the uniformed police placed the children in their squad cars with lights flashing and trekked north to the Walmart for two shifts of shopping. Roughly 40 cops participated from Round Lake Park, Deerfield, Round Lake Heights, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake and the Lake County sheriff's office.
Round Lake Police Chief Michael Gillette was among the cops armed with a shopping cart. He escorted Johnethan Falcon, 6, and Jose Falcon, 12, both of Round Lake Park.
Taking little Johnethan by the hand, Gillette first helped the boys buy winter jackets and made sure the apparel fit properly. The boys worked their way to buy some shoes and a present for their mother before getting to the fun stuff -- toys.
"What kind of Legos do you want? All of them?" Gillette asked Johnethan.
"Yeah!" Johnethan replied.
Johnethan wound up with a couple of selections from the Lego City series. Jose's toy choices included a pair of Hexbug microrobotic creatures.
Gillette made a positive impression on Jose. "He's cool," the boy said.
Round Lake Park started Lake County's first Shop with a Cop in 1996. This year's children came from referrals by Round Lake Area Unit District 116 and local churches, said Filenko.
At its height, 350 children were served one year by Round Lake Park's Shop with a Cop, Filenko said. However, he said, the numbers no longer are as high because many other Lake County police departments have since launched similar programs.
Monday's festivities at Murphy Elementary School included hot dogs, popcorn and prize raffles for the kids. The children received stuffed animals, mittens and hats before they went shopping.