Houston Independent School District students and police officers experienced the joy and excitement of Christmas a few days early thanks to the Shop with a Cop, Shop with a Jock community event.
With $100 gift cards in their hands and accompanied by one police officer and one professional athlete, 100 students had 10 minutes to shop for whatever they wanted in the Target at 8500 Main St.
When the horn sounded, students took off, making a mad dash to the toy section to grab what they could in the allotted time. It didn’t take long for them to find exactly what they wanted.
“I got a new doll because my other one got messed up in the flood. So, I’m really thankful to be able to get it,” said Tamia Dixon, a student at Isaacs Elementary School.
Many of the students selected to participate in this year’s event were affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The program was started 19 years ago by newly appointed Texas Southern University Chief of Police Mary Young. She started the program while working for the Houston Police Department, when she and her partner were working patrol in Southwest Houston.
Young said she would see kids walking in streets without shoes or enough clothing. One evening one of those kids, a little girl, asked them for a doll. They went to Target and purchased several dolls.
“We were able to put smiles on, not just the one little girl’s face, but several little girls,” she said.
The next year, she partnered with the late Steve McNair, who played for the Tennessee Titans, and donated money to purchase toys. With two cops and one “jock,” the program was born and named. Nearly two decades later, it brings together officers from different law enforcement organizations, both current and former professional athletes and students from the HISD and surrounding districts.
HISD Officer Kevin Banks participated in the event for the first time. “It was a good experience for the kids. I enjoyed it and I will be doing it again” he said as he waited in the check-out line with second-grader Logan Williams. Williams picked out toys for herself and her younger brother. When the total exceeded the $100 limit, Banks chose to personally pay the difference.
“What was impressive to me was that he wanted to shop for his sisters as well,” said Houston Texans Tackle Chris Clark of his shopping partner, Almeda Elementary fourth-grader Dontrel Fisher. Pointing to a Wonder Woman doll in the basket, Dontrel said, “I got stuff for my little sister because she couldn’t come.”
HISD District II Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones has been volunteering with the program for six years.
“I come out every year because it is priceless seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and how excited they are,” she said. “It just gets me in the holiday spirit.”
Young says the purpose of the program goes beyond the fun of a shopping spree. It also shows kids that professional athletes and police officers are everyday people under the uniforms.
“In light of things going on right now with athletes and police officers, it’s ever more fitting to talk to kids about those things. It’s just to continue to show unity between police officers and professional athletes,” Young said.