Five-year-old Ethan Zimmer smiled widely as he gazed upward into Public Safety Officer Tom Burette's face as the uniformed policeman gently shook his hand.
Clearly impressed by the police officer's uniform, and just a little awe struck, the kindergartner was excited to be pushed around the Eastland Target by the Grosse Pointe City policeman as they shopped for toys during the "Shop with a Cop" program on Dec. 14.
The event, now in its second year with the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods Public Safety offices, puts police officers and local children together in an effort to foster a positive experience for children with law enforcement officials while helping children with special needs.
Veronica Cashion, a Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety officer, has organized both years' events. Cashion said the program is a collaboration between the Fraternal Order of Police, the Benevolent Fund of Grosse Pointe Farms and a grant by Target.
Julie Walkley, a special education teacher at Ferry Elementary School, said that the 20 students invited to "Shop with a Cop" were children who attend classes at Ferry. Each child was paired with a police officer from one of the Grosse Pointes or Harper Woods Public Safety Offices.
"Many of these children's families are having an incredibly rough time right now, especially in this down economy. It's important that they have a positive experience with these police officers, because that's not always their experience at home," Walkley said.
Each child received a $100 gift card to spend in the store. Toys were a popular choice as well as clothes. Many children bought gifts for brothers and sisters as well. The day's event culminated with a special luncheon at Pier Pointe Park.
Officer Burette, who volunteered several months ago for Friday's special duty, said, "I think it's extremely important to do things like this not just at Christmas, but all year long. People tend to see police in only one regard and this reminds them of the other side of our work."
Ethan's eyes lit up as Burnette strolled him down his favorite store aisle lined with small model cars and he excitedly pointed to a brightly boxed model of a police car, complete with lights.
"This one?" Burette asked.
Burette smiled at Ethan as he handed the youngster his chosen toy, "Great choice!"