It's before 9 a.m. on a cold morning, but Eric Forka and Malcolm Jones, both 10 years old, waited outside the Target Store at Beltway Plaza Mall to start their Christmas shopping.
Greenbelt Police Corporal Mark Sagan escorted them into the store, just after 9 a.m., serving as the holder of gift cards and a little black book.
It wasn't long before the jovial officer gave the boys the ground rules: "You each have $100 to spend to buy presents for everybody. Leave a little leftover for your own gift." His notes in the black book would keep them on track.
Forka and Jones, friends and neighbors, were among the 20 boys and girls selected by the and to "Shop with a Cop", an annual program of the Lodge #32.
Buying Shoes for Women is a Minefield
Sagan gave the boys fatherly advice on budgeting their money and humorous but practical man-to-man advice about buying gifts for their mothers.
When one of the boys said he wanted to buy his mother shoes, the Sagan word was: "Buying shoes for women is a minefield."
Forka quickly mentioned video games and his friend knowingly warned that, "He always thinks of video games."
Sure enough, the video game "Call of Duty: World at War", was tossed in Forka's cart, and before he was done there would be a second game, "Assassins Creed". Forka's budget-conscious eyes also spotted a game controller.
Clothes are Another Minefield
Jones' first pick was a Redskins shirt for his brother.
With as much of an eye for a bargain as his friend, Jones chose another shirt for his mother, despite the officer's advice that clothes are another minefield for men buying for women, but, since "women are always cold, pajamas and slippers are a safe bet."
But Forka took him up on that, along with the experienced advice from the 21-year-veteran of the force that with women "you can never go wrong with pink."
Soon there was a soft pink robe and pink pajama pants covering Forka's video games and game controller, and he was done.
Two Lucky Boys with Secrets
His buddy added a DVD player ($40) for his mother, confiding to Patch that he had accidentally knocked down her player.
Forka's open secret was that the video games and controller were as much for him as for his four brothers– his defense being that they would all use them.
After ringing everything up at the cash register, Jones tried to brag that he had more money left on his gift card, to spend later, than Forka did. But, just as Forka had been underestimated while pricing a video game, he surprised his friend by proving he actually had more money leftover because the controller had been hung under the wrong price, so he couldn't buy it.
That rivalry was quickly forgotten as they headed off with the group to Lots of Laughs, a mall arcade, for gift wrapping, pizza, and lots of free rides, unlimited in fact. But no free video games, to the slight disappointment of Forka and a few others, when they weren't tossing basketballs or riding a roller coaster.
Kayla Thinks of Chi Chi and her Family First
Kayla Kelly, 11, exemplified the spirit of sharing and giving that marks Shop with a Cop. She told Patch that she chose for her family first.
The family gifts included a giant teddy bear for her college-student brother. Last, she got the $30 camcorder she wanted. Later her mother, Jacolyn, said that her daughter even put her cat, Chi Chi, before the camcorder, getting a bag of cat treats.
Greenbelt Police Corporal Tim White, who organized the event with help from colleagues, on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that this is the second year that Franklin Park at Greenbelt Station has paid for half the costs of the event. The officers also made some donations and the rest came from the community--citizens and businesses.
The Police Enjoy Happy Times with Kids
White said he and the other officers enjoy the fun time with the kids and find the event a good opportunity to have a positive impact on them, seeing them at a happy rather than stressful time, and helping to make their Christmas a little happier. The kids touch their hearts, White said, and officers have known to reach into their own wallets if the kids come a little short at the register, he said.
Because of his recent promotion to Corporal, supervising patrol officers, White will no longer be the liaison officer to Franklin Park and Beltway Plaza, but he said he's glad that Greenbelt is small enough that he will still be able to visit with his friends in Greenbelt West.