Darryl Lewis Sr. is an Army veteran of Desert Storm, a single father and a former railroad worker who can’t work because of kidney disease.
Michele McKinney is a single mother of six children trying to make ends meet by waiting tables at a local restaurant.
Both were smiling Wednesday night at Blain’s Farm & Fleet as they watched their children select gifts from the store’s shelves—gifts that will add joy to their Christmas celebrations.
Their children were among the 25 needy kids paired up with police officers for the annual Shop With a Cop.
Janesville police officer Brad Rau called up the calculator on his phone to keep track of the purchases of Darryl Lewis Jr., 9.
“That’s a good choice. That’s on sale,” said Rau as young Darryl picked a basketball hoop that hangs on the door.
He later chose a Star Wars lightsaber, a basketball and other toys from the shelves that were stocked with brightly colored toys and other items. Rau was patient, following the child’s lead and offering suggestions.
“We were told a lot different,” Lewis Sr. recalled from his own youth. “We were told, ‘Hurry up! Make your mind up and be done with it.’”
But the father was clearly pleased as he pushed the cart behind the officer and boy.
“It helps those in need,” Lewis Sr. said. “It helps get the word out and bridges the gap between law enforcement and the community.
“These are things that need to be showcased,” Lewis Sr. continued. “They’re humans just like us,” he said of the police. “They have families. They’re not just an authoritarian figure.”
Janesville Sgt. Aaron Ellis, meanwhile, was pushing the cart as Landon McKinney, 10, dashed around, finding gifts for his two sisters, three brothers and mother. Socks, jeans and action figures were in his cart.
“He came prepared. He had a list of everyone he wanted to buy for,” Ellis said.
Janesville, Evansville and Milton police officers and Rock County sheriff’s deputies participated.
Each child had $200 to spend.
Farm & Fleet paid for everything, including the sales tax on the $200, Ellis said.
“I think it’s a really positive influence for the community. You know, the kids see the police as a positive force,” McKinney said.
At the checkouts, Darryl Jr. pronounced himself happy “because I get to get toys.”
“Awesome!” said Landon, adding that he can’t remember ever having more fun.
He got to shop for himself and his family, he said, but the best part was giving to others “because then I make them happy.”