It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and never is that more evident than in Natrona County. More often than not, we take care of our own, especially when it comes to families and children. A perfect example of this is the Casper Police Department's 'Shop With a Cop' program.

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For years, 'Shop With a Cop' has provided Natrona County children and families with Christmas gifts and, this year, as like last, it even provided families with food baskets to ensure that this Christmas is one to remember.

The CPD partnered with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office, Walmart, and Sam's Club, as well as with Jennie Gordon, the First Lady of Wyoming, to offer gifts, food, smiles, and laughter to the children of Natrona County.

"My understanding is that this has been happening in Natrona County for about 14 or 15 years," said Rebekah Ladd, Public Information Officer with the Casper Police Department. "It actually came about through our local Walmart. It's primarily funded through grants and donations from our local Walmart and Sam's Club and it's grown over the years. I think the first year had about 100 kids and then, of course, the last couple of years we've had upwards of 350, 360 kids, which is the most kids we've ever had."

A social media post from the CPD stated that for two days, children in Natrona County were given a $60 gift card to able to shop one-on-one with a police officer at our local Walmart. Additionally, the families of the children were given a food basket that came from Jennie Gordon and the Wyoming Hunger Initiative.

That idea started last year and continued this year.

"The First Lady's office reached out to us and said, 'Hey, we want to contribute. Is this a need?' And of course we said yes," Ladd stated. "The program specifically looks for and accepts children and families who are going through a rough time and who can benefit from presents during the holiday. So it just made sense to us that this same group of families could also really benefit from some good food over the holiday season as well. So the way that we try to do that is to give them holiday meal items. Last year they got a turkey and this year they got a ham and some pantry holiday foods."

Ladd said that before adopting the name, Casper police officers would do similar acts around Christmas time for children who had been part of particularly intense investigations.

"We would take them out and kind of help make the holiday special for them, and then it just kind of grew into an official program," she stated.

Recently, the CPD has been doing more and more community-focused activities to develop strong relationships with residents. 'Shop With a Cop' is just one of the ways they are doing that.

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"Building a relationship with a kid as a law enforcement officer is really one of the most proactive things you can do in terms of the longevity of the safety of a community," Ladd stated. "This program, in particular, is application-based. Individuals have to demonstrate a certain level of need to be selected for the program. So a lot of the children that are in the program are going through a particularly rough time. Perhaps they've had a negative interaction with law enforcement. So it's important for us to be able to take the time to truly be intentional and to create that positive relationship."

The social media post stated that law enforcement in Natrona County came together and were able to provide over 360 children an experience to remember.

"This isn't about making us feel good," Ladd stated. "But it does, ya know? To be able to make that child feel special and to feel like they're taken care of, but hopefully also to communicate to the parent or guardian that there's an entire community here that really, truly, cares about them; it does mean a lot to us. We just want to shower them with love and presents and let them know that there are so many organizations here that want them to succeed."

Because Casper is a village. When people are displaced from their homes because of a fire, we are there.  When a young marine is taken from this world far too young, we are there. When organizations who are trying to provide a place to live and a way to live for homeless teenagers need extra funding, we are there.

And when children and families in Natrona County have fallen on hard times (and, let's be honest - the way these past two years have gone, most of us have fallen on hard times) and are worried about what is going to be under the tree or on the table at Christmas, we are there.

Christmas means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. All of those things are valid and important and beautiful and special. But for the people of Casper, for the residents of Natrona County, Christmas demonstrates the absolute best of us. Christmas is our police officers walking hand-in-hand with children, picking out a favorite toy. Christmas is stuffing the van with gifts and food for families we may not even ever meet. Christmas is the smile on a little boy's face when he gets the Batman action figure he so desperately wanted. It's the glow of a little girl's face when she gets the doll that captured her heart. And it's the tears in the eyes of grateful parents, knowing that Christmas will still get to happen this year.

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We all fall on hard times. Most of us have had to ask for help at some point in our lives, whether from family, friends, or the government. Asking for help is not a shameful thing, nor should it be treated as such. We've all done it. We've all asked for help. And what a blessing it is to live in a community that doesn't make us ask twice. If it takes a village to raise a child, then we have all been raised by each other. And while Santa Claus may or may not be a real person, his spirit is alive and well in this village.

Shop With a Cop proves that.

2021 Shop With a Cop

Recently, the CPD has been doing more and more community-focused activities to develop strong relationships with residents. 'Shop With a Cop' is just one of the ways they are doing that.