Making Christmas a little more special
Students, law enforcement keep charitable cause going for third year
'Tis the season for happiness and laughter, time with family and friends, and giving to those less fortunate.
While families are busy making memories with holiday traditions, new and old, other local organizations are doing the same.
The Student Government Association at Montezuma-Cortez High School spent its third year planning and organizing the Shop With a Cop event that took place on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Every Christmas season, the SGA writes letters to each elementary school in the area, asking them to nominate any child who could use a few extra Christmas gifts. Sixteen children from nine families at Mesa, Manaugh and Kemper elementary schools were chosen to participate in the program.
"The event is for helping kids in need and to make their Christmas a little brighter," said SGA co-president Judy Ha, a freshman at M-CHS. Andre Esquibel, SGA vice president, agreed saying this was one of the most rewarding activities for the students.
The SGA funded a good chunk of the budget from their own treasury and also held a fundraiser. They took $1,000 to Cortez Retail Enhancement Association where the funds were doubled and turned into Cortez Cash. Those nine children were then given $80 a piece to buy any gift of their choice so long as they went shopping with an agent of the law.
Volunteers came from the Cortez Police Department, the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office, the Colorado State Patrol, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Mancos Marshall and a Mesa Verde Ranger also participated.
The goal was one child per cop, but some were doubled up. Many of the children were siblings and wanted to stick together. The kids hitched rides in patrol cars and sheriff vehicles to the store of their choice.
Walmart and Walgreens both took part in the event by offering discounts of up to 20 percent to their young customers. Some of the kids chose strategically, taking their time as they perused the shelves and spending wisely. Others wanted one large gift, and a few kids had an empty basket 20 minutes into shopping. After all, toy shopping is a task of careful deliberation.
Once they were checked out and satisfied, children returned to M-CHS where SGA members had cooked pancakes and sausage for the children and their parents.
The energy produced from an early morning shopping trip gave way to kids showing off their gifts and munching happily on breakfast.
Chris Barry is a newcomer to Cortez. He is a patrol sheriff deputy with the sheriff's office and volunteered for the event. He also recruited his 9-year-old son Tyler to be his helpful elf.
"I'm teaching him to be charitable," Barry said with a smile. "And understand what it means to be a part of the Christmas spirit."
Tyler and his father took Colton Gregory, 6, to Walmart where the boys rigorously searched for gifts. Gregory purchased a football, a few Batman toys and a tie for his father.
"It was a lot of fun shopping (with Colton)," Barry said. "It went by fast. He knew what he wanted. He was a very good shopper."
Barry made one more stop at the Dollar Tree where he picked up wrapping paper before heading back to the high school. Once there, Gregory and Tyler ate a full plate of pancakes and sausage while Barry wrapped each of the gifts. Although it is not required that the gifts be wrapped, Barry wanted to go the extra mile for Gregory.
"I think this is something I'll do every year," Barry said. "As long as I'm here."
Vern Rucker, Cortez Police Department DARE officer, is the volunteer organizer. The students find the families and he provides the cops. This is Rucker's second year participating in Shop With a Cop and he said the most touching thing is when the kids act selflessly rather than selfishly. Like Colton buying a tie for his father.
"What's cool about this is a lot of the kids buy for siblings or parents, whoever they have at home," Rucker said. "It's (the program) pretty significant to the kids. It makes them happy."
Like Colton, Shane Williams wanted to buy something for his family. He bounced along the Walmart aisles picking each toy intently, only because his mother told him not to worry about her.
"The first thing he wanted to do was get gifts for me and his siblings," said Brittany Meyer, Shane's mother. "He didn't understand that we were shopping for him."
Meyer said she was touched that her son was able to participate. She said their situation is sensitive, and she is glad her son will have a good Christmas. She plans on saving a few of the gifts to open Christmas day.
Meyer was also excited for her son because he is learning that this is the perfect time of the year to be generous.
"It's helping him realize that people can be trusted," Meyer said. "And that there is good cause in the world."