The holiday season is quick approaching, and the Moorhead Police department is gearing up — to go shopping.
December 2021 marks the fourth year that the Moorhead Police Athletics and Activities League (PAL) will be hosting Shop-with-a-Cop, a program designed to connect with at risk and underserved Moorhead children while also providing them and their families with a little Christmas cheer.
“It’s a fun way to connect with the community,” says Sergeant Scott Kostohryz, one of the organizers of the event. “Unfortunately, a majority of contact between the police and the community is negative in nature — people don’t call and tell us they are having a good day — and that can be even more traumatizing for a kid. So we want to build those positive interactions; build trust in us, and trust in the community itself. There are a lot of options for adults, not as much outreach for kids.”
To proactively reach out to the youth of the community, the Moorhead Police Department has been creating opportunities to interact. Since their first event, a kids hockey game in 2007, they have created multiple programs to connect community children with police officers, such as providing bikes for area children or hosting their first baseball game this past July. To make it easier for the community to assist and donate to their endeavors, the non-profit, Moorhead Police Athletics and Activities League (PAL), was formed in 2017.
“The nice thing is that we don’t have any parameters,” laughs Kostohryz. “We can try different things. Our imagination is our only limitation.”
For Shop-with-a-Cop, each child is paired up with an individual police officer and provided with funds to purchase holiday gifts for their family members. The pair spend time shopping and getting to know each other before going to the volunteer gift wrapping station set up at the front of the store. While the child gets their presents wrapped, the officer sneaks away to purchase and wrap a Christmas gift for their partner. In this way, each child returns home with wrapped gifts for everyone in their household, including themselves.
The first two years of the program served between 30 and 50 community children nominated by schools, counselors, probation officers and occasionally judges. Last year the program helped over 70 kids get presents, and Sergeant Kostohryz is hoping 2021 will expand their reach even further.
“Last year we just grew. We’re starting to have parents call, which means we are building relationships with the parents and family, too. We’ve been really lucky. Target has been a great corporate sponsor and a lot of organizations and people help keep us going. We’re still growing and so far we haven’t had to turn anyone away. Ideally, we’d love to expand to help kids all over Clay County.”
Funding for the Moorhead Police Athletics and Activities League changes every year, as PAL doesn’t have a specific funding source. This year Shop-with-a-Cop will be partially funded by a grant from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation, who named the program their September 2021 grantee. Their gift of $1000 will assist PAL in reaching out to ten additional families this holiday season.
Sergeant Kostohryz is firm that it is the continual combination of support from organizations, companies and individuals that make the Shop-with-a-Cop program successful.
“We appreciate groups that step up and support programs like Shop-with-a-Cop. It’s amazing how expensive doing good is. It takes money to do programs like this, and you need public support. In other parts of the country, this program would not exist. It is the community supporting the program that has kept us going these four years. The continued support of law enforcement in general, and programs like this. It really is building a community together.”
Community members who wish to learn more, support the Moorhead Police Athletics and Activities League, or a specific program like Shop-with-a-Cop, are encouraged to contact Sergeant Scott Kostohryz directly.
The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/ cassclay