RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA) — Every holiday season, police officers around Central Illinois make a trip to the store and load up on Christmas toys. This year will be no exception for Rantoul Police. The department is gearing up to help more than 30 families during “Shop with a Cop.”

“We will call the families, we will ask what the kids want and then we as a department — we love to do this — we will go shopping. And we pick out the stuff that the kids need and want and we try to do a little combination of what works best,” says Sergeant Christina Reifsteck.

Officers used to love shopping with the kids, but haven’t been able to do that since the pandemic started. They’re making up for the change with special deliveries. Officers bring the gifts directly to children — Santa in tow.

“It’s amazing, of course everybody wants to see Santa and when we go drop off the gifts, I mean the jaws drop, the eyes light up … Kids from all over the neighborhoods flock to him, they don’t care anything about us, it’s totally about Santa and so we provide Santa Security,” she says.

Beyond Santa Security, police say their role in this program serves another important purpose. Kids get to form a deeper understanding of who these officers are and what they stand for.

“We get to wrap the gifts, we get to go out and deliver them, they get to see what police officers do outside of what they believe their capacity is,” says Reifsteck.

That’s not all. Rantoul teachers provide the names for Shop with a Cop. Police say that creates a connection between their department, schools and the rest of the community. It’s a connection that benefits not just the ones unwrapping the presents, but the ones wrapping them, too.

“For us, it just brings a smile to our face. I mean it really truly is one of those times where it’s better to give than to receive,” says Reifsteck.

You can help us give back to Shop with a Cop programs in Central Illinois by donating at our Day of Giving event. It will be on Tuesday, November 30 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. We will be in our back parking lot in Champaign. You will also be able to donate on our website.