Children throughout Macon County who may otherwise not have a traditional Christmas had a chance to do so this year through Shop With a Cop (SWAC). The idea is that an officer takes a child shopping with $100 to buy Christmas presents for the child and their family members.
Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell has participated in SWAC for over 13 years, back to his days as a Macon County Sheriff’s Deputy.
“It gives kids a chance to see a different side of law enforcement instead of seeing us during unfortunate situations that most of these kids have been through,” said Harrell. “They may only see law enforcement during a traumatic event and not see the side where law enforcement cares. We genuinely care about their well-being and we are there for them, not just in their time of need.”
SWAC was created 26-years ago by Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, his wife Marci, and a few co-workers. About 300-400 children between 5-12 years old participate every year. Children are nominated by teachers, social workers, counselors, school officials, law enforcement or by any other adult. All money raised is 100 percent donated and all of it goes towards SWAC.
Holland said once Harrell became HPD Chief the program expanded even further.
“Chief Harrell has participated in Shop With a Cop long before he was Chief and while he was a deputy sheriff with our agency,” said Holland. “Once he became Highlands Police Chief he placed more emphasis in the Highlands area and has been involved in all our fundraisers. Having the Chief involved has allowed us to serve the needs of more children in Highlands because he and his officers know where the needs are more readily.”
Highlands School Resource Officer Tim Broughton was excited before the shopping date, which varies depending on the agency.
“I love it,” said Broughton. “We take kids that otherwise might not have the resources they need to help their families have a good Christmas.”
Holland said officers speak with family members beforehand and find out if there are any specific needs (jackets, shoes, etc.) to perhaps steer the child in the right direction before hitting the shopping isles. If the child has siblings, they’re coming along. All children in the household can participate.
“It gives children and law enforcement an opportunity to interact in a much different environment than when many of these children see the officers,” said Holland. “Many of the children selected have had officers respond to their homes due to various incidents occurring.”
He added that sometimes the children have only seen where officers are performing their duties and many times it’s unpleasant for everyone involved. Or sometimes it’s children and families who need some additional love and support from the community due to financial difficulties.
“As law enforcement we are honored the families share their children with us for a day,” said Holland. “It brightens everyone’s Christmas.”
Pictured below are photos from past and present-year Shop With a Cop with the Highlands Police Department.
Harrell said the program has expanded over the years, and this year the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation organized a trip for children participating in SWAC to visit the Fun Factory in Franklin, N.C.
“It gave the kids a really fun experience,” said Harrell. “Hopefully we’ll make it tradition for the foreseeable future.
100 percent of contributions go towards SWAC and anyone who would like to donate can call HPD at 828-526-9431.
Editor’s Note: Everyone who spoke with Plateau Daily News for this article knows that the spirit of Christmas is not about giving or receiving presents, but when you’re 5-12 years old it’s a pretty big deal. Kudos Macon County law enforcement.
Photos courtesy of Macon County Sheriff’s Department and Highlands Police Department
Article by Brian O’Shea
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