Zuleyna Martinez, a 9-year-old student at Gardner Academy, paused to go over her shopping list with San Jose Police Officer Sabrina Robinson as the pair strolled the aisles of the Target on Coleman Avenue Wednesday for the 12th annual Shop with a Cop event.
They were on the hunt for a teddy bear for Martinez’s mom and a basketball for her brother — among other items for her family members. For herself, Martinez is hoping to get her hands on a container of slime.
It was a crowded day at Target as the two were joined by more than 200 children who were matched with uniformed officers across various departments to complete their holiday shopping.
The annual event, which was started by retired officer Darrell Cortez and his wife Alicia more than a decade ago, provides underserved children with the opportunity to select gifts for family members and themselves. Cortez serves as the executive director of the Shop with a Cop Foundation Silicon Valley which funds the program.
This year, the foundation provided each participant with a $175 gift card to spend however they wanted.
Martinez spent most of Tuesday thinking about what she would select for each person on her list, even staying up late to complete the task.
“I’m so excited to buy stuff for my family,” Martinez said. “I’m grateful for them.”
Officer Robinson — who’s been an officer with the San Jose Police Department for a year and a half — says she enjoys it too.
“I love it,” she said. “Especially helping the kids.”
The foundation selects some of the participants from the Readers Are Leaders campaign. Students who do well in the program are rewarded with the holiday shopping spree. Other children are selected for the event due to hardship in their lives such as domestic violence or the loss of a parent.
Cortez says the idea is to allow children to get to know uniformed officers in a normal setting rather than a time of crisis.
“We have to show that cops are human,” said Cortez, who retired from the police department ten years ago after three decades.
The annual event continues to grow every year. Among other agencies, officers representing the military, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department were on hand to assist the young shoppers while 100 volunteers from various organizations helped by wrapping the gifts.
It’s a thrilling day for the children, organizers say, but often it’s just as rewarding for the officers who get to relax a little on the job.
“We get to lower our guard,” said Officer George Constantina, who participated in the event for his first time. “(The children) can see a different side of us.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer, participate or donate to Shop with a Cop Silicon Valley can visit shopwithacopsv.com or mail checks to P.O. Box 8003 in San Jose.
Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.