Two cool dudes, Sergeant C. M. Loftis, Public Information Officer for Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, and Christian Gatling don their shades as they go back-to-school shopping together at Target in Burke during the 2019 Shop with the Sheriff Program.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
The first day of school is a critical time in the lives of children. An opportunity to shop and choose new back-to-school clothes and shoes excited Yuri Duncan, 7, and Malachi Nealy, 10. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Fairfax County Sheriff's Office took Yuri, Malachi and thirty-eight other children shopping for back- to school items, but not before a complimentary pizza lunch by Paisano's Pizza.
These children live right now at the Katherine K. Hanley and Patrick Henry family shelters operated by Shelter House, and the Next Steps family shelter run by Facets.
Now in its 28th year, the 2019 Shop with the Sheriff Program allowed local shelter children the opportunity to select and purchase clothing they liked, suited to their individual personalities, while interacting in a positive experience with law enforcement. “Together, we truly are changing lives," said Joe Myer Executive Director and CEO of Shelter House.
"I'd like some Jojo shoes because I wear dresses," said Yuri Duncan as she and Sheriff's Deputy J. M. Smith, Field Training Officer, ate their pizza and got to know each other.
FOR MALACHI NEALY, it was all about being cool. "I'm looking for stylish, cool clothes in teal and light blue.” Shiah Allen, 8, who sat with Sheriff's Deputy L. R. Favetti said he wanted a hoodie with a 100 on it, and Noah Mathews, 10, knew exactly what clothing and shoes he wanted to get to dominate the game on the school courts. "I'd like themed t-shirts, shorts, and new Nike James LeBron shoes.”
"I love the interaction between our kids and our Sheriff's deputies," said Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid. "These children are living in family shelters. Helping them prepare for the start of the school year with new clothes is something we can see and appreciate. Less obvious, but just as important, is the relationship building. We are law enforcement officers … we are regular people who can tell jokes and stories. We want the children to engage with us today and in the future."
According to Sheriff Kincaid, since the program was not county-funded, the Office relied on contributions from individuals and corporate donations such as Target, Paisano’s Pizza and new partner this year, Oracle in Reston.
"Each child is paired up with a Deputy Sheriff or civilian staff member and given $250 gift cards so they can purchase items such as clothing, accessories, things that they need...on the first day and beyond, so they are able to walk in with a sense of pride and can focus on their studies."
For many of the deputies, the event was a repeat performance. “I love helping out ... This is my third or fourth time," said Deputy Sheriff J.M. Smith as she sat coloring with Yuri Duncan and eating pizza. For Deputy L. R. Favetti, it was his first time volunteering, which momentarily concerned his shopping partner, Shiah Allen, 8. That is until Favetti added: "I have lots of nieces and nephews, so I know how to shop."
Sharon Bulova, Chairman Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Supervisor John W. Cook (R-Braddock District) waited at Target for the children, Kincaid and the deputies to arrive. Before the children came, Bulova said, "This is one of my favorite events of the year. It's heartwarming to see the interaction between the Sheriff's deputies and these children. It changes the children's opinion of law enforcement."
When the children arrived, Cook spoke to the group. "You just show our deputies what you need, and they will be happy to get it for you. … School is really important. … We want you ready to learn and have fun with your fellow classmates."
IN A FILMED INTERVIEW, Kincaid explained that while Shop with the Sheriff provided the tangible benefit of new clothes and shoes, it also provided intangible benefits. The experience gave the children a sense of control as they selected and excitedly tried on the clothing they picked out. The new clothes also gave the children a sense of pride, which would allow them to focus on their education. It also allowed positive interaction between deputies and the children.
"This is a great program, and I wish we could have it every single day. We love to interact and be the role models for the children," said Kincaid.