Bringing Joy To Children During A Rough Year

Harnett County Sheriff’s Office takes some children shopping

LILLINGTON — Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats tried to gather his emotions Friday night when talking about the 2020 edition of “Shop-with-a-Cop.”

Malakai Moore, 10, shares a moment with Santa Claus Friday night at the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office. Dunn Daily Record Photo

So much of the focus on the traditional outreach initiative over the years centered around the bond between law enforcement and its community, a chance to pull back the curtain and see the faces of the men and women who serve to protect. When a community hurts, police officers hurt too, and Coats showed how much he was hurting when addressing the crowd assembled in front of the sheriff’s office.

Coats opened his brief speech recognizing someone who couldn’t be there Friday night. Jackson Webb, a hospitalized 5-year-old boy, lost his mother, Alicia Webb, less than a month ago in a tragic car accident on Carson Gregory Road.

“We’ve got a young man who is in the hospital and he’s struggling,” a teary-eyed Coats said. “Deputy [Michael] Martin will be here shopping for him. We need to keep him in our prayers. It looks like he’s going to be in the hospital until February or March. Our deputies reached out to some of the families to see what kinds of toys he likes and we’re still going to give him his, we just won’t be able to give it him until he’s out of the hospital.”

An emotional Sheriff Wayne Coats addresses the crowd at the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office Friday night. Dunn Daily Record Photo

Alicia Webb’s death added another layer to an already strenuous year for law enforcement. From the COVID-19 pandemic to nationwide social justice protests, police officers suffered through a brutal 2020. Friday night enabled deputies and members of the HCSO the chance to spend some quality time with people from the community in a setting of fellowship.

“It’s a chance for us to give back to the community and remind people that we’re not only about enforcing the law, but we’re about building our community back up and pointing people in the right direction,” Deputy Christopher Marco said. “I’m really excited. I got to do this last year and I’m excited to be back again this year. The smiles on their faces is just an amazing experience. It’s an opportunity for a lot of children in our county who don’t normally have these opportunities.”

Despite not being able to hold its annual golf tournament, HCSO managed to raise more than $4,000 through private donations that went to granting 21 local children the chance to “shop with a cop.”

“All year long, we have a lot of stress that we deal with,” said Coats. “This is a night where we’re able to just turn loose, enjoy the kids and Christmas, and we’ll go back to work on Monday. This is a joyful time to get to watch these kids go spend this money. The volunteers and people who donated the money to make this happen, thank them. We’re able to present a Christmas that some of the children may not have had like they would’ve wanted. We put our jobs to the side for one night to be with the kids and see the excitement in their eyes. I can’t say enough about it.”

Lt. Dominic Alvarado organized this year’s event, overcoming numerous uncertainties and challenges associated with fundraising during a pandemic. Not having the annual golf tournament to fall back on hurt fundraising efforts, but Alvarado said the community found a way to step up and make sure at least 21 children received a proper Christmas.

“We weren’t sure what we were going to do this year for Christmas,” Alvarado said. “With COVID, we thought we might have to cancel, but the sheriff really wanted to bring some joy to these kids. Its been a rough year for them with everything going on. When I called parents and told them they were nominated for this program it makes me want to cry because they’re crying on the other end. They’re happy with joy and it’s hard to keep professional at moments like that. It’s really emotional calling all of these parents and I wish I could help everybody who calls me.”

Agencies such as Harnett County Schools and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as deputies themselves, recommended this year’s candidate list. COVID-19 prevented any of the children from the traditional ride to the store in the squad car component of the evening, but the message wasn’t lost on the ones that mattered most.

“This is great,” said 17-year-old Braxton Webb, who also was in the car when his mother died on Nov. 22. “It’s a big turnout for everybody and it helps us with everything. It’s different and it’s cool. I’ve never done that before and it’s something different. [This year has been] horrible. Police get a lot of hate and I think they need to show what it’s really like.”

Shop-with-a-cop always proved to be a popular and successful initiative at the HCSO. Coats’ emotions showed how truly unique 2020 turned out to be.

-Dunn Daily Record