Thursday, August 23, 2018
The first day of school can be as anxiety-filled as it is a time of excitement and anticipation. The scales, however, tend to tip towards the negative when you are a student living not in your own home, but in a family shelter instead. The baggage you bring with you to the classroom is a lot more than a backpack filled with school supplies and you often haven’t had the pleasure and privilege of loading up on new clothing and paraphernalia to bolster your confidence as you walk through those school front doors.
For the last 27 years, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department has hosted its annual “Shopping with the Sheriff” at Target to give those children the basics — and a few extras, too — to alleviate some of those anxieties and help get them off to a great start for the school year.
“This is one of the highlights of what we get to do,” said Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid. “It’s a joyful part of our summer.”
Kincaid praised the county’s efforts to end and prevent homelessness, but says that until all children are living in safe and permanent housing, the “Sheriff’s Office will continue to do its best to make their lives a little bit easier.”
THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE partners each year with Target and other sponsors, and solicits donations to provide each child with $250 in gift cards to purchase clothing, undergarments, shoes, accessories, and school supplies.
This year’s shopping extravaganza took place on Aug. 14, with about 40 children from the Katherine K. Hanley, Patrick Henry and Next Steps family shelters participating.
“Some of the kids were so excited, they didn’t really sleep last night,” reported Joe Meyer, the executive director and CEO of Reston-based Shelter House, the nonprofit that operates both the Hanley and the Henry shelters. Meyer said that the result of Shopping with the Sheriff was more than just the children “getting some new things. It’s also about helping maintain their dignity and their pride.”
Before starting their shopping spree, the kids, aged 5 and up, were treated to a Paisano’s pizza party at the Fairfax County court house where they engaged in some fun activities that helped them get acquainted with the deputy or the support staff member who would be their shopping partner.
Lunch and introductions over, it was time to shop. Escorted by official vehicles, some flashing lights, and a quick sound of a horn, or two, the yellow school bus carrying the young shoppers arrived at Target in Burke, where more Sheriff’s Office staff, Target representatives, and some VIPs were waiting to welcome them. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) was on hand, as was Braddock District Supervisor John Cook.
A few welcoming speeches and instructions later, and well-organized chaos ensued as the shopping teams grabbed carts and began making their selections.
The law enforcement personnel who accept Shop with the Sheriff duties all volunteer their time, but Kincaid said it’s not too difficult to get willing participants from among her officers and staff.
“I am so glad to do this,” said PFC Kanli. It was obvious that she was enjoying helping 9 year-old Kayden choose his new duds. “These kids deserve our help to make things just a little bit better for them.”
Kincaid also sees this event as an opportunity to build relationships with these children, some of whom may have had previous interactions with law enforcement during difficult circumstances. The Sheriff hopes that spending this time together will encourage the youngsters to “see us as being here to help them, as people they can turn to.”
“They have things to say, things to share,” remarked Deputy Martha Heyward, as she smiled down on 6 year-old Nirvana who was clutching her cart, already holding some spiffy new sneakers, “socks with pom-poms!” and other essentials.
Needless to say, the sight of dozens of deputies wandering the aisles took a few of the Target patrons by surprise.
“This has got to be the safest place to be right now in the whole county,” laughed Carole Miller of Fairfax. Once the activity was explained to her, Miller seemed a bit emotional.
“That’s just the nicest thing I have heard or seen in I don’t know how long. Bless them all.”
AFTER ABOUT AN HOUR of shoe-sizing, holding up pants to check for fit, serious deliberations about the right cap to buy, deputies crawling about looking for size 6 jeans in that color and helping to choose which pencil case best matched a glittery binder, the carts rolled to the checkout points and the tallying began. There was some jovial ribbing among the deputies aimed at those who had exceed the $250 budget, like Lt. Ricardo Evans who was shopping with 8 year-old Jamaury – “Hey, he needed all this stuff!” – but the little extras were kept, even the Barbie Doll that Miss Nirvana couldn’t help but proudly show to one and all.
Target still had one more surprise for the young shoppers before they headed off with their bundles; each child also received a backpack filled with a variety of school supplies.
Well-kitted out and having made some new friends in their deputy partners, these young people who have more obstacles than most to overcome, are now ready to start their educational adventure.
For more information about the Shop with The Sheriff program, Sheriff Kincaid invites interested persons to email the Sheriff’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.