MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> Forget about Black Friday. The real shopping excitement will be taking place on Sunday, Dec. 1 inside the Target store in Middletown Township.

In a holiday shopping experience like no other, more than 40 elementary and early middle school children from the Council Rock School District will go shopping with a cop.

It’s all part of Shop With a Cop, a national program that pairs local police officers with children who are facing life challenges, including a parent losing a job, tragedy, homelessness, military deployment, economic shortcomings, and other hardships.

For the second year, the Newtown Township, Newtown Borough and Upper Makefield Police departments are taking part in the special shopping experience in conjunction with the Middletown Community Foundation and with the help and assistance of District Judge Mick Petrucci.

The event provides each child with a $150 gift card to purchase gifts for themselves and their family members. The kids are then joined on their holiday shopping spree by police officers from the three municipalities.

The magic that unfolds in the aisles and checkout lines at the Target store is priceless, not just for the child but also for the cops who get to be part of something really special.

In 2018, Judge Petrucci, working with Newtown Township Police Corporal Paul Deppi organized the community’s first Shop With A Cop event and are again leading the effort this year.

“The first year, it blew our minds away,” said Petrucci. “When you first pulled up to Target you saw all these police cars lined up. And inside, you saw all the uniformed police officers and all the workers and volunteers. I was just overwhelmed by the feeling and the vibe. We were doing so much good.

“And then the people started to arrive,” said Petrucci. “That was the coolest thing ever. People got so excited. The kids were so excited to get to walk around the store with a cop. And the cops were putting their vests and hats on the kids. It was just so much fun.

“And then when they go through the line and they’re checking out, the excitement level really sinks in as they realize this is all for them and it’s free,” said Petrucci.

The judge tagged along with Newtown Township Officer Julius Ferraro and two young girls during last year’s shopping spree.

“What blew my mind was that they weren’t getting gifts for themselves, but for their family. That’s when it really hit me. We’re here for them, and they are there because they wanted to give a present to others. We almost had to beg them to get something for themselves. The whole experience was just phenomenal.”

“Just seeing the glee and the happiness made it very worthwhile,” added Corporal Deppi. “Even the customers who were just there shopping were overwhelmed with what they saw. Some people set up some chairs and watched.

“And you will see some of the officers get overwhelmed because they have seen some of these kids in very difficult circumstances,” said Deppi. “It just makes you feel good that these kids were going to have a good holiday season, whether they celebrated Christmas or Chanukah.”

Deppi said there was one child taking part last year who had suffered the tragic loss of a parent. “We paired him with our two best, friendliest officers. Knowing what that kid had gone through - looking at him you just wanted to cry for him. But the picture of him with a smile and holding up a Paw Patrol playset, it was overwhelming.”

According to Deppi, officers put in a full day - about 10 hours total - and all on their own time. And many, he said, didn’t want to leave.

“It’s a great opportunity for the police officers and the kids to get together in a positive, happy situation,” said Deppi. “Of those 41 children, if 10 leave with a better rapport with officers that’s 10 less that we might have to deal with in the future in a bad situation.”

That’s one of the reasons Judge Petrucci likes the event.

“So often these children will see the police in a bad situation. Maybe they are taking mommy or daddy away or a brother or big sister and then they come before a judge and it’s all negativity,” he said. “This day shines a different light on police officers. Police officers are good. The court system can do good. It’s all here for a reason.

“Today all you hear out there is negativity toward police and it’s teaching kids to hate people in the law enforcement realm. This is positive,” he said. “This is community policing at its best. It’s taking that negative energy and refocusing it on the positive stuff.”

The kids invited to take part in the event range in age from five to 13 and are recommended through the school district’s assistance programs.

The Shop with a Cop program is funded solely through the community, including generous donations from residents and businesses.

Volunteers from the community also assist that day with gift wrapping, hosting and registration. And Police Officers from Newtown Township, Newtown Borough and Upper Makefield Township volunteer their personal time to support the program.

“Many thanks to Target for hosting the program and providing supplies,” said Deppi. “A special thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers, our local community partners and the Council Rock School District for supporting this program.”

In addition to Newtown and Upper Makefield, multiple other departments, including Northampton, Lower Southampton and Middletown, will also be taking part in the Shop with a Cop event at Target.

To make a donation, make checks payable to “Middletown Community Foundations.” Please note on the memo line Newtown Township-SWAC, Newtown Borough-SWAC or Upper Makefield-SWAC. And mail the checks to the Middletown Township Police Department, attn.: Melissa Robison, 5 Municipal Way, Langhorne 19047.

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