Detective Spencer Robinson helps Reighley Garcia decide on a toy.
Detective Spencer Robinson helps Reighley Garcia decide on a toy.

Sky Valley parents received an unexpected phone call from the Monroe Police Department earlier this month.

They were asked to report to Walmart with their child and team up with local law enforcement officers, who needed to positively identify up to $150 in gifts for families to take home for the holidays. Those called in for questioning lined up at the store’s entrance promptly at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Monroe’s fourth year of Shop with a Cop had the most participants and its highest budget yet. More than two dozen kids were assisted by responding officers. This year, Washington State Patrol troopers and Duvall Police were called in as backup volunteers.

Partners took their shopping carts and perused shelf after shelf.

Detective Spencer Robinson, one of the event’s founders, was paired up with Reighley Garcia. His mom, Erika, and brother, Anthony, were in pursuit. The group went straight for the toys, and a short stack of Ninja Turtles figurines quickly accumulated.

“That’s the first thing we knew he was going to get,” Erika Garcia said.

The older sibling just missed the age cutoff, but Monroe Police added Anthony and a few more names to the gift list last minute. Each were given their own budget and officer.

Every year, children ages 4-12 are invited to participate in the holiday activities, Robinson said. Those asked to join are in foster care, have lost a parent — many recently — are homeless, experienced a sibling die from violence, or are from a low-income home, he said.

The Garcia family is living with a friend of the single mother’s. The three were forced to leave their apartment, which they had moved into without other housing options, when it was at risk of flooding this fall. They had packed up everything and left the day before Thanksgiving, she said.

The current plan is to try to get into a shelter. Erika Garcia was told that would be the best bet for being rehoused more quickly.

Robinson said the idea to start Shop with a Cop was actually inspired by his own child. Years ago his young son was surprised to learn that other people his age had lost one or both of their parents; that they sometimes struggled financially and went hungry. During its first year in 2014 the event was largely paid for out of Robinson and Detective Tim Buzzell’s own pockets.

“We try to provide Christmas to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have one,” Robinson said.

Funding now comes from the Monroe Police Officers Association, the members of which are the agency’s officers and staff. Last year an anonymous $10,000 contribution was made to the nonprofit, which Robinson said is enough to support this and next year’s Shop with a Cop.

Prior to the gift the organization’s capital was running low. The event is supported by fundraisers, individual donations — some that come from other shoppers who happen to witness the annual spree — and larger checks from community partners like Walmart and the Monroe Rotary Club.

Every dollar goes to a kid, Robinson said. Despite any challenges, he considers the activities an annual tradition, he said.

“I don’t see this going away, ever,” he said.

Once their carts were filled, families and officers made their way back to Walmart’s break room to feast together. 

Sam Ortiz and his daughter, Alicia, sat across from Buzzell. The father remembered the feeling upon hearing the Frank Wagner Elementary student was invited to attend Shop with a Cop.

“I thought it was a major blessing, to be honest with you,” Sam Ortiz said.

They had come up from California in July, he said. Their car was stolen, leaving them stranded in Washington. Alicia Ortiz ended up spending most of her Shop with a Cop budget on others Wednesday. Buzzell said the decision reveals how good her heart is.

It’s not an uncommon choice made by kids during the event, said Monroe Police administrative director Debbie Willis. Robinson said when that does happen, officers will end up buying the essential items for the shoppers.

“We don’t want them to have to choose between a toy and a jacket to stay warm during the winter,” he said.