Sure, it’s thrilling and pretty cool for elementary school kids to have a police officer in a cruiser come to their neighborhood to pick them up for an outing — to their friends’ amazement.

But for the nine Portland kids who won an opportunity to “Shop with a Cop,” the event also was about the generosity that Christmas evokes and having a chance to do things for their families that most young kids can’t.

“I want to shop with a cop because my grammy and papa do everything for the family. They make sure that we have everything that we need,” read one of the essays selected from more than 100 submitted by children who wanted to be selected to shop with a cop.

In its third year in Portland, the Shop with a Cop program has grown from a couple of kids in the East End to nine across the city.

Officer Ray Ruby, youth services coordinator for the Portland Police Department, saw a similar program when he visited Wisconsin to bring his father to a Green Bay Packers game. He transplanted the idea to Portland.

On Friday, officers used their day off to take kids shopping at Target in South Portland, then wrap gifts and eat pizza back at the station. The two police unions, for officers and supervisors, pay for the gifts.

Ruby can remember, as a kid, shopping with his parents, picking out what he thought they wanted and having them buy it so he could do the wrapping. It was cute, but this is truly a surprise for the family members.

Once in a while, a youth insists that his mom wants a video game system, but usually the kids are pretty reasonable and thoughtful, with little regard for themselves, Ruby said. That’s one of the qualities that Ruby and the city’s after-school recreation program staff looked for in the essays.

“I’m never disrespectful to anyone, I won’t be a sore loser if I don’t win, I’m never rude to anyone,” wrote one child, who could just as easily have been writing an appeal to Santa, except for the next part: “I really want to buy presents for my family because it’s very nice and generous to give presents and I can never repay my mom for all the stuff she does for me and here’s the chance.”

“I want to shop with a cop because I want to get my nana a present because she let me live with her,” wrote another, adding a little extra sugar just in case: “I like cops because they keep me safe.”

Ruby said the essays are touching for their sincerity.

“Kids are very honest. They write what they feel, and you sometimes get that off the piece of paper,” he said.

The worst part of the project is that many deserving essays don’t get selected, and the youths have to wait until the next year.

“A lot of these kids remember. I show up for Halloween safety talks and they’re, like, ‘When’s Shop with a Cop?’” Ruby said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build those relationships through the years.”

Much of Ruby’s, and the department’s, focus on youths is to create positive interactions that pay off in good relationships later.

As special as it is for the kids, Shop with a Cop is a refreshing change of pace for officers, too.

“A lot of times, we show up for calls and it’s for negative reasons. This is a completely positive thing — just fun,” Ruby said. “Nobody is stressed out, no worries, just having a good time together.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]