Children benefit from 5th annual Shop With A Cop in North Huntingdon

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A wide-eyed 9-year-old girl took an inventory of all the presents she picked out with help from Irwin police officer Dan Wensel.

Courtney Lackey picked out games and art kits, a stuffed pink pony and a blue beanbag chair that she couldn't wait to plop into.

With help from local police departments, Courtney and other local children will have a memorable Christmas. The fifth annual Shop With a Cop event distributed $40,000 to almost 300 children throughout Westmoreland County.

Sometimes uniformed police officers can be intimidating to children, Wensel said. But in almost no time, officers knelt down, critiqued toys and dolls, and lifted up children to get a better view of action figures on the shelves.

“It's special to let the community know that we're more than a badge and a gun,” Wensel said. “I want them to know that police are their friends. We're here to help.”

Officers from departments in North Huntingdon, Irwin, McKeesport, Penn Township, Smithton and Monroeville and the state police teamed up with 58 local children to pick out Christmas gifts at the North Huntingdon Wal-Mart on Wednesday. Other departments in the county held similar shopping sprees at other Wal-Mart locations.

“I think it's great what they do for the kids,” said Tammi Lackey of Irwin.

The mother of two has been unemployed since she was laid off over the summer.

“If it wasn't for them, I don't know what we'd do,” she said. “I'd have a lot of very unhappy kids.”

All of the money raised through the program stays in Westmoreland County to directly benefit residents, said Trooper Steve Limani, a state police spokesman.

Each child received $150 to spend on anything in the store.

“I could only imagine that most of them wouldn't have a Christmas (without the program),” Limani said.

Seven Irwin police officers, all of whom volunteer for the program on their day off, paired up with children to select gifts, Chief Roger Pivirotto said.

“They're dedicated to the community and to helping children,” he said. “It's a good cause for the kids.”

North Huntingdon police Chief Andrew Lisiecki cruised aisles to check off items on lists for two teenage boys. As they walked through the store, Lisiecki chatted with the boys about school.

“It's good to see the officers are giving back to the community,” he said.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media.

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