Record number of kids, families turn out for Shop with a Cop
If it wasn't for the Shop with a Cop program in Dundee Township, Miguel and Rosa Vega don't know how they would have gotten into the Christmas spirit for their children.
Miguel Vega, of Carpentersville, works as a landscaper. But because that job is seasonal, he's now out of work but hopes to pick up extra money this winter shoveling snow. His wife, Rosa, can't work because she's unable to sit and stand for long periods of time due to an injury that damaged the discs in her back.
The couple have four children. Money has been tight in the Vega household and they've been going to the FISH food pantry in Carpentersville for their meals.
On Saturday, the Vegas and three of their children Gabriela, 15, Miguel Jr., 13, and Daisy, 12, were among 72 families who shopped with local police officers for Christmas presents at Wal-Mart in East Dundee.
Shop with a Cop in Dundee Township is a nonprofit organization that helps identify needy families and raises money so the children can have plenty of presents under the tree. Every child was entitled to $75 in gifts and the program is in its eighth year.
Participating police departments are those in Carpentersville, West Dundee, East Dundee and Gilberts.
"I pray that God will give them more so they could help more people out," Rosa Vega said.
The program sponsored a record 171 children this year, said Gilberts Officer Hector Pulgar, president of the Shop with a Cop program.
He kept up with the demand by reaching out to his comrades in other police departments.
In response, police officers from Pingree Grove, Round Lake Beach, South Barrington, Huntley and South Elgin also escorted local families down the Wal-Mart aisles.
"They were short, so we jumped on it," said Pingree Grove Police Chief Carol Lussky, who brought two other officers with her.
Even Dean Stiegemeier, Carpentersville's recently retired deputy police chief, couldn't stay away from the village for long.
"Oh yeah, (it's) my hometown," said Stiegemeier, who retired in November. "I came back."
The program is beneficial for local law enforcement it because helps people see that police officers can help them when they're hurting.
"It's just giving back to the community and having a more positive interaction than handing out a ticket or putting them in handcuffs," said Carpentersville Officer Morgan Brown, who helped the Vega family shop for their gifts.
While every child is entitled to $75 in gifts, the Vega children used some of that allotment to buy gifts for other friends and relatives.
And in the middle of the shopping trip, Daisy Vega surprised her mother by showing her the CD she bought for her with her allotment.
She just couldn't wait until Christmas.