LORAIN — Six-year-old Ava Grady grabbed a pack of neon hair extensions off a rack at the Lorain Wal-Mart on Saturday afternoon and proclaimed them as hers.
Not the most practical item to buy, but anyone who knows anything about what drives the heart of a little girl should know practical is not always a priority. Ava just knew her red hair needed to be adorned with blue, pink and purple extensions and no one was going to stop her.
Not even the police officer wearing a jacket that read “Lorain SWAT” who was standing right behind her.
Detective Orlando Colon didn’t bat an eye.
It was Shop with a Cop day, so anything and everything was considered practical as Ava, older sister Aurora Grady, Colon and Colon’s two daughters pushed a shopping cart through the Leavitt Road store.
“What are you girls looking for?” Colon said.
His rookie status as a shopping fashionista was obvious by the look on his face. Daughters Anna, 13, and Elisa,12, were his back-up. Each held the hand of one of the younger sisters and showed off shirts and skirts hoping to get a beaming smile of approval.
“He doesn’t even do our shopping,” said Anna. “We’re happy to help.”
The scene of the shopping excursion played out all over the store. More than 50 kids participated in this year’s Shop with a Cop, organized by the Lorain Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. Too often, police officers are associated with tragedy. To create a memory to the contrary is priceless.
“We see kids, usually, when their families are having the worse days of their lives,” Officer Jesse Perkins said. “This got started three years ago to remind people of the good the FOP can and will do in the community.”
“We want kids to see us in a different light sometimes,” added Officer Mike Gidich. “A lot of guys have seen these kids again for work and they remember this day.”
It happened to Colon, a seven-year veteran of the job, last year. In mid-December, he shopped with a young boy who was back at his home by Christmas.
“I actually had to take him out of his home because his stepfather was abusing him,” he said. “He spent Christmas alone at the Blessing House without his family because that was the best place for him.”
One of just a handful of parents shopping with their kids and a volunteer cop, Mindy Guzman tried to let her kids pick what they wanted instead of what the single mother of three knew they needed.
“Kids — they ask for so much stuff and it feels good that today they don’t have to hear, ‘No’, and can really get something they want,” she said.
Guzman’s three sons — one of which is deaf and another autistic — walked away with toys, video games and clothes. Each item tossed into the shopping cart lifted the imaginary weight of expensive childhood dreams off Guzman’s shoulders — signifying one less thing she will have to buy.
“For the most part, we are blessed,” she said. “We live in a clean, safe home and they go to a good school. I always think there are other people who need help more than us. I have to remind myself it’s OK to take the help.”
With donations from police union members, Lake Screen Printing, Pizza Hut, First Student Transportation and Wal-Mart, each child was gifted with $125 to buy things they longed for in their wildest dreams. The day started with a pizza lunch and a visit with Santa, and wrapped up with the shop-until-you-drop outing.
It was interesting to investigate the bounty in each child’s shopping cart. Some were full of toys and others carried necessities that give hints to the needs of their home — shoes, boots and underwear.
Each child was chosen either through a recommendation from local schools and social service agencies or through the officers’ personal interactions.
“This helps on those days when you see those kids who you know don’t have what they need,” Colon said. “We can’t help them all, but these kids are happy today.”
On cue, Aurora squealed with delight. She spotted a Monster High playset complete with a cool doll with colorful facepaint.
“I need this,” she said.
But before Colon could determine if her budget permitted the $40 toy, she had moved on to the Barbie dolls among a row of dozens of dolls.
“Ahhh, maybe I want this,” she said. “I get to get what I want, you know.”