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  • 2018-12-31
  • Meghan Finnerty

University Police Take Two Girls on Unforgettable Shopping Spree

Brockport University Police helped out Santa and a local family by raising more than $800 to treat two girls to a shopping spree.

What’s under the Christmas tree is often a surprise for children, but this year, two Brockport girls knew what they were unwrapping. They had just grabbed it off a Walmart shelf with the help of University Police.

Even before the department teamed up with Santa, Christmas this year was going to be different for the girls. It would be the first without their mom alive.

Officer James Barnes with New York State University Police and SUNY Brockport had an idea for the department to raise money and treat a family to a shop-with-a-cop experience, a community outreach trend that police departments have taken up to give back.

Barnes reached out to employees at the Brockport Child Development and Learning Center, the on-campus daycare, and asked them to nominate a family.  

The names of two sisters came back: Kennedy and Kylie.

University Police raised more than $800 to take 4-year-old Kennedy and 9-year-old Kylie on a Christmas shopping spree at Walmart. “I was overwhelmed by the response from the department,” Barnes said. The department had 100 percent participation by the officers and more than doubled its goal.

University Police pose with Kennedy and Kylie

The store welcomed the officers, the girls, and their grandmother Robin Pera with a reception.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Lieutenant Dennis Price, who oversees the community policing efforts. “They got the opportunity to shovel whatever they wanted into the carts,” he said.

Easy-going Kylie took her time filling the cart, Pera said. Meanwhile, the younger firecracker sister Kennedy was going crazy. “Oh my gosh, I hope they don't do this the next time we go to the store,” she added.

“I just let them destroy the shelves and pick whatever they wanted. They loved every minute of it,” Barnes said.

With full carts, Barnes guessed that they would be over budget but said he wasn't going to stop the fun. Christmas shopping spreeEven with a discount from Walmart, the bill came up high, but that's when University Police Chief Dan Vasile ’07/’18 personally picked up the rest.

The girls’ faces were priceless, Price said. “There were tears, but not from the kids.”

On Thursday, Pera sat in her kitchen close to two trees: the Christmas tree filled with unwrapped presents beneath and another that hung as a pendant around her neck — holding her daughter Kate’s ashes. Pera said that when the offer to shop with the University Police first came in via email, she almost declined. In fact, she didn’t respond. Pera said she thought that others may need a shopping spree more, but in the end, she agreed.

“Emotionally, the girls really needed it,” she concluded. The experience was special, and she doubts her granddaughters will ever forget it. “They had quite the Christmas,” she said.

The 29-year-old mother of three, Kate, died on January 24, 2018, from an overdose.

“I think about her every day, all day.” Pera said.

“We don’t hide from it. Not anymore,” she said. Pera wants it plain and clear Kate lost her struggle. It can happen to anyone, and while supporting an addict is important, supporting the ones who love the addict is, too, she said.

Pera is grateful for what the University Police did for them.

The year was rough. Everyone misses Kate, they’re running out of space in their two-bedroom apartment, money is tight, and on top of that, Kennedy has faced health issues.

But for a day, Kennedy and Kylie were just two girls shopping with their new friends in uniform — without a limit.

Kylie grabs an item from the shelf

The department plans to bring back shop-with-a-cop next year and maybe do it bigger, Barnes said. 

“If we could just put a temporary bandage on a tragic moment, I think it was a success,” he said.

Last Updated 7/29/21

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