GREENWOOD, Ind. (WTHR) — What does Hailey Gosbin think of cops after a day of holiday shopping with one?
"They're amazing!" sang the 9-year-old as she squeezed her oversized stuffed unicorn.
"We pair these children up and their parents also with the police, and we take them Christmas shopping," said Indiana State Police Master Trooper Patrick Etter. "They're all allowed $125 per child — give or take — and we go out and buy them the things they need."
"Last week, we had another event where we took about 230 kids Christmas shopping and this week, we're taking about 45 special needs kids," he added.
Etter said most of the kids were referred to the Southport Police Department or Trooper Bartam Memorial Foundation through school or community organizations.
"My little guy is autistic like his dad," said Le Roy Van Jr. as he held his son in his arms.
"Mom decided to opt out, so it allows for me and my little man to have a chance to have some daddy time and meet the amazing officers who keep us safe. Meet awesome people, an explorer," he added, nudging SPD explorer Faith Wagner.
Van Jr. says he treasures that father-son time because Shop with a Cop offers so much more than gifts and family bonding.
"I enjoyed meeting a lot of other autistic parents," said Van Jr. "I found a support group of other parents going through the same thing. and we traded numbers."
As he held his son closer, he enthusiastically spoke to him and said, "You got play-dates, buddy!"
Seeing their kids happy means the world to these shoppers.
"They (my kids) have been through a lot, so this has been so good for them," Maraia Zapata added.
Van Jr. says it couldn't have come at a better time.
"I just got laid off last week, but I bust my butt as much as possible every day and from working three jobs, now I'm down to just one," Van Jr. said. "I just want to make them smile."
For the cops, it's that same joy that makes them proud to give back to the community they serve.
Etter says the affiliation with the Trooper Bartam Memorial Foundation is also a way of honoring fallen officers and giving back to the communities they served in their memory.
The Trooper Bartam Foundation self-funds their Shop with a Cop event and accepts donations via their website.