BUTTE - At under 4 feet high, only 6 years old and without badge or uniform, Gabriel Beatty was nevertheless in charge Saturday.
When his buddies for the morning – Butte-Silver Bow police officers Tim Berger and Steve Honer – suggested they start their shopping spree in the clothes department at Kmart – Gabriel had a better idea.
“I want to do the toys first,” he said, beaming in the opposite direction.
He was a good sport, though, and bounced along – literally – to pick out some clothes first. He got a little guidance, but he had the final say on selections.
“Oooo, cozy,” he said as Berger slid a coat onto him.
Gabriel was among about 25 kids from Butte and surrounding areas who took part in Shop with a Cop, a national program that helps brighten Christmas for underprivileged children.
It is paid for with donations from area businesses that allowed each child to spend $176 this year on themselves and their moms and dads and brothers and sisters. Some things – coats, warm clothes, socks, gloves and the like – are a must.
But it’s not all boring stuff.
Five-year-old Rykin Mihalovich had a basket full of items, some of them for his sister, and he picked out two dolls for her upon first arrival in the toy section.
Chris Williams, a lieutenant with the Montana Department of Transportation’s Motor Carrier Services Division, had to tell Rykin he should get something for himself, too. At last check, they were gazing at all the toy cars.
Choices, choices … so many choices.
Many of the kids hitched rides to the store on fire trucks, with lights flashing and sirens wailing and horns honking. Yep, the whole shebang.
Among them were trucks and firefighters from Butte-Silver Bow, Centerville, Rocker, Race Track and Walkerville. There were officers from Butte-Silver Bow, Deer Lodge and Powell County, the Montana Highway Patrol, Motor Carrier Division and the Department of Corrections.
Butte-Silver Bow Police Sgt. Ray Vaughn, an organizer of the local event, said the program helps build a positive connection between police and kids in the community.
Some kids, he said, have only seen officers “not in a real flattering light.”
“In their young minds we look like the bad guys a lot of the time when we’re just doing our jobs,” Vaughn said. “This breaks down those barriers and allows us to be seen as real people.”
Butte Officer Ben Rauch and Butte Firefighter Kolby Carter led 7-year-old Emma Kness around the store.
Actually, it was the other way around, and at one point, Emma and Rauch got into a game of hide-and-chase that took several aisles to play out. After an hour of shopping and running, Emma took a seat and watched firefighters break dance to a Michael Jackson tune.
“I got a bean bag and I got a Barbie – two Barbies, actually – and I got a pair of shoes,” she said. “It was AWESOME!”
For the officers and firefighters, too.
“We have more fun than the kids do,” Vaughn said.