Brightening spirits is the law

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
Haylee Rings, 6, and Madison County Sheriff Deputy Wes Davis prepare for a mock battle in the toy department at Walmart in London during a Dec. 16 Shop With A Cop event.

(Posted Dec. 24, 2017)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

In years past, siblings Haylee and Joey Rings would be beside themselves with excitement as Christmas Day approached.

They’d look forward to playing with their furry friends and sneaking cookies before the big feast. Their favorite  part: spending time with their grandparents and watching their reactions as they opened gifts both homemade and store-bought.

Unfortunately, Christmas won’t be the same this year for Haylee, 6, and Joey, 8.

Several months ago, they had to say goodbye to a beloved family dog. They did not know at the time that three more would follow. In the midst of their grief over their pets, they lost their grandmother and were informed their grandfather was battling a serious illness.

Their mother, Liz Teeters-Rings, said the loss of loved ones has been hard on the children.

“They’ve been through a lot this year,” she said.

As a result, they are struggling to get into the Christmas spirit.

“I’m excited but it’s hard, too,” said Joey.

Enter West Jefferson’s first Shop with a Cop. Local schools nominated Haylee, Joey and a dozen other children and young adults to spend time Christmas shopping and eating lunch with local law enforcement officers.

“A lot of these events are specifically for children whose families are going through some tough times financially, but we wanted this to be open to children and families who could also use a pick-me-up,” said organizer Paula Martin.

Martin, a West Jefferson resident, has dreamed of putting on this event for the two years. It only came to fruition recently.

“The mayor (Ray Martin) told me Tom Coughlin and his family were going to fund the event two months ago and that I better get to work,” she said.

Martin enlisted the help of the West Jefferson Police Department and Madison County Sheriff’s Office, then asked for volunteers to help shop for food for the children’s families.

West Jefferson Police Officer Matthew Stevers and John Galloway, 12, pose with a cart full of goodies.

She said the support she received was overwhelming.

“This community just came together for these kids and families,” she said.

West Jefferson’s Shop with a Cop took place on Dec. 16 at the Walmart store in London. Jefferson Local Schools loaned a bus to transport the children from their homes to the store. The driver’s time was donated. A police escort led the bus to its destination.

Each child or sibling group received money to spend on gifts for themselves and their families, courtesy of the Coughlin family. Volunteers shopped for food for the families’ Christmas dinners with funds donated by West Jefferson police officers.

In Walmart’s grocery section, Martin and the merry band of volunteers sang holiday songs while the kids browsed the merchandise aisles.

Jeffrey Glisson, 15, said he had nothing in mind for himself, just for his older and younger brothers.

He said it was difficult knowing that one stipulation of the event was that he had to get something for himself.

“I just don’t know what to get myself,” he said.

While Glisson was shopping with Sheriff’s Deputy Troy Prater, Joey and Haylee went shopping with Sheriff’s Deputy Wes Davis who said he wanted to participate in Shop with a Cop to give back to the community.

“I live in West Jefferson, and it’s like a big family there,” Davis said. “And what better way to give back than to [participate] in something like this?”

For the better part of an hour, the Rings siblings looked for gifts for their mother (something shiny), their father (something scary), their grandfather (something race-car related), and for themselves.

Not all self-gifting came without criticism.

“Do you really need another doll?” Joey asked Haylee as she put a second doll in the cart.

And not all gifts were allowed in the cart.

“Nope, you can’t get that,” said Davis as Haylee and Joey tried to put a model patrol car in the cart as a present for him. “This day is all for you.”

After their shopping adventure, the siblings said they had regained some of their holiday spirit.

“This was really fun,” said Haylee, adding that she can’t wait to see how her parents and grandfather react to the gifts she chose. She also can’t wait to play with her dolls.

“I like them,” she said.

Martin said the children’s reactions to participating in Shop with a Cop were priceless.

“I’ve had so many of them tell me this was the best day of their lives, and I cannot tell you how much that means to me.”

She added that it was just as memorable for the adults.

“This will be with us for a lifetime,” she said.

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