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Holiday buying bonds Westmoreland kids, officers

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:03 a.m.
Tribune-Review
Scottdale police Officer Michael Whipkey and Camden Stokes, 2, browse through the aisles of the Mt. Pleasant Wal-Mart on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, during the fourth annual Shop with a Cop event. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

Camden Stokes may be only 2 years old, but he knows what he wants for Christmas.

As Camden picked out Thomas and Friends toys in the East Huntingdon Wal-Mart on Monday, his parents didn't have to worry about coming up with the money to pay.

Instead, the toys Camden and hundreds of other Westmoreland County kids will pick out this week will be paid for by the Shop with a Cop program.

“There's really no way to express how much this means,” said Camden's father, Jesse Stokes, 26, of Scottdale, who can't work because he broke his back several years ago. “It means so much to us.”

Shop with a Cop, which started four years ago, pairs police officers with children who are underprivileged or have been affected by a crime or an accident for a shopping spree.

The program, organized by state police Trooper Stephen Limani, raised $55,000 this year — more than double last year's total. Limani hopes to spend every penny.

“I try to go broke every year,” he said. “That's my goal.”

In all, about 350 children will each receive a $150 shopping spree; Wal-Mart is donating winter clothing for each child.

This year's Shop with a Cop events started on Monday and will continue through Wednesday in the six Wal-Mart locations in Westmoreland County.

Officers from more than 20 police departments will shop with the children throughout the event.

Scottdale police officers have participated in the program for three years.

“We love doing it,” said Chief Barry Pritts, who helped out in the East Huntingdon store on Monday. “It's just a way to give back to the community and reach out to the children in a way that's not a bad situation. It's a way for them to be with us and see we're normal people, too.”

The kids and their new police officer friends all seemed to converge in the toy aisles, where trucks and dolls and shiny bikes were put in their carts.

Trooper John Litz spent a lot of his time in the truck aisle with a 4-year-old boy.

“Is this your favorite?” the little boy asked the trooper, picking up a toy police car.

“Don't worry about what I like. Get what you like,” Litz told him.

Aaron Vario, 16, of Trauger led his police officer around by the hand, picking out a pogo stick, Moon Shoes and a drum set.

Vario was recommended for the program by officials of the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's Clairview School. He is in the 10th grade at the school for students with special needs.

His mom, Karen Vario, said her son wasn't sure about shopping with a police officer at first.

“He said, ‘But I don't want to get arrested.' I said, ‘They're going to help you pick something out,' ” Karen Vario said. “(Now) they're the best of buddies.”

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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