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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Shop With a Cop: Refuge Wildlife Officers Help Make Holidays Merrier for Youth

  2 officers in store with a family of 5 Federal Wildlife Officers Shane Kempf (far right) and Greg Burgess (center), from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex in California, shopped with two brothers from schools in Yuba City. Each student received a $100 gift card to shop. Photo by USFWS

By Brent Lawrence and Byrhonda Lyons, Public Affairs Officers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal Wildlife Officers had youth right where they wanted them: Shopping for holiday gifts. 

The “Shop With a Cop” concept has grown across the nation as a way of improving relations between police officers and young people. The program gives elementary school students a chance to purchase holiday gifts for themselves and their family, and an opportunity for law enforcement officers to build camaraderie within their communities. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Wildlife Officers (FWOs) in several regions grabbed the chance to help brighten the holiday season for families.

On Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, FWOs Dan Huckel, Ryan Wagner and Gary Poen volunteered earlier this month. They were joined by 18 officers from Long Beach Police Department, Pacific County Sheriff’s Department, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Washington State Parks, Washington State Patrol and NOAA in an event organized by the Peninsula Rotary Club. 

   officer with childIn Wyoming, a youngster shops with Federal Wildlife Officer Zachary Arnold. Photo by USFWS

In Wyoming, FWO Zachary Arnold and Senior FWO Bryan Yetter of the National Elk Refuge joined members of the Jackson Police Department, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish and Jackson Fire/EMS in their annual event, which give some 20 local kids a $100 gift card donated by local civic organizations.  Arnold, Yetter and other officers took the kids to see Santa, drink hot chocolate and shop for Christmas. 

In California, FWOs Shane Kempf and Greg Burgess from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex shopped with two brothers from schools in Yuba City. Each student received a $100 gift card to shop and bought scooters for themselves, a bracelet for their mother and other gifts. “After the boys were done shopping, I spoke to their mother,” Burgess says. “Teary eyed, she told me that she did not know how she would have provided a Christmas if it were not for this program.” 

Adds Huckel, who is based at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington: “[Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Project Leader] Jackie Ferrier told me that a lot of in-need kids could participate, but the number is limited by how many officers sign up asked me to participate. That really hit home so I made the four-hour round-trip drive to do it. It was a huge pleasure to participate.”

Kempf presented the idea to other officers at Sacramento.  “I’ve known about (Shop With a Cop) for a few years now,” he says. “It’s kind of stressful when you’re running around the store with the kids, but it’s worth it in the end knowing that they will have a good Christmas.” 

   Officer and child meet SantaRegional Refuge Law Enforcement Chief Gary Poen takes a girl to meet Santa. Photo by Jackie Ferrier/USFWS

Wagner, who is based at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, participated for his second year. He helped 7-year-old Lexi pick out gifts. “She had a great time, and she picked out stuff for her siblings. That’s a nice thing when the kids end up shopping for other family members, too. This is part of the community I work in, so I want to give back to them.”

In addition to seeing a 20-car procession, complete with lights and sirens, as it went through Long Beach, the kids there were treated to breakfast, got their photos taken with Santa and were given a $100 gift card for shopping at a local retailer. Ferrier, event co-chair and a member of the Peninsula Rotary Club, says the event is a huge positive for the community and kids.

“I’m very proud that our Service wildlife officers took their time to make a difference in my local community,” says Ferrier. “It means a great deal to me, the community and in the lives of these young people.” 

FWOs are looking forward to volunteering again next year. “We’ll definitely be back,” says Poen, Chief of the Division of Refuge Law Enforcement in the Pacific Region. “This was as important to us as it was the kids. Next year, we hope to bring even more officers.”

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