Emily Weiter can fondly recall many wonderful Christmas memories, be it through the exchanging of gifts or sharing warm moments with her family.
She never takes it for granted.
“Not every child can have a good Christmas,” said Weiter, a senior at Destrehan High School. “I’ve been lucky, but there are a lot of people who aren’t as fortunate.”
That appreciation of her own blessings, in part, was instilled by her parents. Weiter’s father, a police officer with the Kenner Police Department, in past years has brought she and her siblings along with him as he participated in his department’s Shop with a Cop program, an outreach event that donates money to children in need for the holiday season. Each child accompanies a participating officer as they shop for gifts for the child or his or her family members.
Weiter said her parents wanted to give their children exposure to the reality that Christmas can be a difficult and even a sad time for those in need, but that it’s possible to make a difference and spread joy through a bit of generosity.
“They wanted us to be exposed to the kids benefiting from the program and the impact it has on them,” she said. “It brings such a smile to their face … it feels really rewarding to be able to give a person a reason to smile like that.”
She said the event, which focuses on children elementary to middle school age, has always resonated with her, one reason she’s taken up that cause as the center of her senior project. Weiter has been raising money with the goal of providing at least 10 children with an opportunity to participate in the program. To date, she’s raised $700, which she donated to utilize for the program recently.
“I’ve seen the event and participated in it … when it came time to take up a cause for the project, I just felt like I wanted more kids to experience the chance to have gifts for Christmas,” said Weiter, who plans to attend Nicholls to study nursing. “I wanted more to be a part of the program … add some more kids to the list, and maybe allow for each of them to have a little more to spend on the gifts. It just really came from wanting to help out.”
The gifts can vary. Sometimes it comes down to what one needs.
“Some kids might need a new pair of pants, some a winter coat,” she said. “The experience gives you a different perspective.”
An additional benefit to the cause is it bridges what can be a natural barrier between the police and others, in this case by making for a very positive interaction between children and officers.
“There can be difficulties breaking that stereotype that the police are bad … even people who aren’t doing anything wrong sometimes tend to be naturally scared of police,” Weiter said. “They think they’re constantly analyzing or judging them. Some hear about a bad experience someone else has had. (Officers are) just people, like anyone else. So it provides a good experience for kids and police officers to share. It helps that relationship.”