Shop with a Cop: Atlantic City Services Hundreds of Youth and Families over 4 Days

The young people were given $125 gift cards to be used at Walmart in Egg Harbor Township. This year, they were also given a $50 gift card for ShopRite.

Shop with a Cop: Atlantic City Services Hundreds of Youth and Families over 4 Days

Nationwide, there has been, and in some cases, still is a breakdown in police and community relations. Many have called for the defunding of the police. However, the Atlantic City Police Department (ACPD) has an alternative method of improving community relations.

The alternative method is a program called, "Shop with a Cop." It services area youth and families. This year, the program ran from Monday, Dec. 11- Thursday Dec. 14. Approximately 600 young people were paired with police officers from Atlantic City and Brigantine. Also on hand to help make the season bright were Santa and the "reformed" Grinch.

The young people were given $125 gift cards to be used at Walmart in Egg Harbor Township. This year, they were also given a $50 gift card for ShopRite. “When we gave the kids $50 and $100 gift cards. They ended up buying groceries for their family," said William Marsh, Police Athletic League (PAL) board president. "So we now also give them $50 from ShopRite to give to their parents and let the kids get what they want.”

After a hard day of shopping, the officers treated them to hot sandwiches from Chick-fil-A. It was a day filled with the holiday spirit, which showed that police officers are a caring part of the community.

Shop with a Cop: A Former PAL Kid's Perspective

When I was at Walmart recently covering Shop With a Cop, I overheard a police officer ask the child with whom he was shopping, “How are you doing in school?” It was beautiful to see a police officer taking a positive interest in a child and seeing that young person as a “student.” It took me back to a time when I was a student in Atlantic City. My brother and I were raised Seventh-day Adventist and we do not eat pork. At the time, most of our friends, family and everyone we knew ate pork. Dad would tell us before going to birthday parties and Christmas parties, “Don’t ask if it’s pork. Just say no thank you. We’ll feed you when you come home. Just enjoy the party.” (By the way, teaching us to be diplomatic about our beliefs was some of the best advice my old man ever gave me.) So when my brother and I attended the annual Police Athletic League Christmas Party, the PAL director, Mr. Lloyd “Scope” Ward, asked us if we wanted something to eat several times. The food seemed to smell better each time he asked, but we continued to politely decline. Finally, Mr. “Scope” walked me to the kitchen to show me that he bought beef hot dogs to accommodate my brother and me. I don’t recall the gift we received at the party. I am sure it was great. However, I will never forget Mr. "Scope," a retired police officer because he understood the burden of always having to explain religion and health choices.

Those holiday parties are now Shop with a Cop.

The magic of Christmas cannot be bought with a $125 gift card. Nor will a gift card of any amount “improve community relations.” The thing that will make Shop With a Cop a special experience for cops and youth alike is caring. I can say proudly that Atlantic City and the Police Athletic League (PAL) have cared about young people since I was young. I rarely think of the late Mr. "Scope" as a man with a gun or as “law enforcement.” I remember him as the man who cared enough about us, to ensure we had beef hot dogs to eat for the PAL Christmas party. The next year, he ensured that the whole Christmas party menu was something that anyone who that follows the Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 eating plan would approve. He said, “You can eat everything in here this year.”

I also remember Mr. "Scope" as the man who would open up the PAL center on holidays so we could play safely and socialize while he was trying to get a quiet day to do paperwork.

I cannot say how many less crimes there will be in 2024. I will not try to predict how many of the young people will go into law enforcement. But what I sincerely believe is that the sacrifices and caring police officers, doctors, preachers, teachers and extended family adults live on through Shop with a Cop.

And I am sure that if Mr. "Scope" was still sitting in his chair at the PAL center, he would be leading the Shop with a Cop program with his bright, infectious smile.

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