Carolina spreads holiday cheer to the community

UNC Police Officers joined other law enforcement departments to take local elementary school students on a holiday shopping spree.

Six-year-old Soe had two items on his holiday wish list this year: a Spider-Man action figure and a Beyblade spinning top. With a little help from UNC Police, he got both items and more during the annual Shop with a Cop community event Dec. 10.

With $100 to spend and a lot of holiday cheer, Soe and 50 other students from Seawell Elementary School wheeled carts through the aisles of Walmart, gathering up both needed items and sought-after toys with local police officers right by their side, helping to reach toys from the top shelf.

“This is one of my favorite days all year,” said UNC Police Officer Ray Oliver, who has participated in the event for seven years alongside officers from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and other local police departments. “I like to get out and see the kids so they can interact with me and other police officers in a positive light.”

Sponsored by the Optimist Club of Chapel Hill, the event allows kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to buy everything from shoes and winter coats to video games and llama slippers.

James David, community services sergeant with UNC Police, said events like this support the team’s goal of building bridges with their community.

“I think it’s a wonderful program,” David said. “Any formal event like this where young students get an opportunity to interact with law enforcement in a very fun and friendly manner is so critical these days and gives us a wonderful opportunity to connect.”

Plus, he added, reliving his childhood days of action figures and video games is not a bad way to spend a morning.

After all the toys had been pulled from shelves and loaded into a truck for the kids and their families, the event left officers thinking about the spirit of giving.

“Most of the kids we see with this program, they don’t even want presents for themselves,” Oliver said. “They always want to get presents for their brothers or sisters or their parents. Ever since the first year, it just shocked me that they’re not even worried about themselves. They’re worried about giving, not receiving.”