For 18 years Captain Mike McCain has worked diligently to put smiles on the faces of many children during the police department's annual Shop with a Cop campaign.
McCain said that he was inspired to begin this program after being contacted by a Wal-Mart manager in 1995.
"The manager contacted me about doing something special for children around Christmas. I felt that the biggest problem that we would face was money but he agreed to come up with the money and he wanted me to find the kids," said McCain.
"We began with $300 and we took care of about five kids. It just took off from there," he added.
According to McCain, when the program began he would visit the Department of Health and Human Services, seeking children in need of Christmas joy and after people became familiar with the program, he began receiving suggestions and requests from individuals in the community.
"I see people all the time who recommend children or families to me. It's not an exact science but we try to find out who may not have a Christmas," he said.
McCain said that the goal of the program is to allow children to become familiar with police officers and it gives officers a chance to interact with children in the community.
The program services children between the ages of 3-12 and parents are allowed to shop along with law officials.
Each child is given a $50 gift card and permitted to purchase any toy that they desire within reason.
"I try to give some respect to the parents. Some parents don’t like for their kids to have toy guns or action figures. I have had some to tell me that their child may need a coat or other clothing. We try to get them some clothes but I also make sure that they get something that they really want," said McCain.
"I let the parents play a little role in selecting items for the kids but I ask them not to actually pick the gift for the child," he added.
McCain said that the program receives donations from multiple sources.
"In Bolivar County we have some of the most generous individuals. We have had farmers who have written checks for Shop with a Cop and they didn’t even blink," McCain said.
"I had a business owner who just threw a stack of money to me and it just blew my mind! They don’t ask for any type of recognition, they just give from out of the goodness of their hearts. We have a heartfelt community that gives during this time of the year," he added.
McCain said that left over funds roll over to be used for the next year and are placed in the Cleveland city budget.
Although the program is up and thriving now, according to McCain there was a time when funds were a bit low and he didn’t know where he would receive money to continue his efforts.
"About eight or nine years ago, I didn’t have any money but after a story was ran in the Bolivar Commercial and picked up by other media outlets, I began receiving money from places that I would have never imagined. People began sending me money from Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and even Georgia—checks just started coming in," he said.
The campaign is set for Dec. 16 through Dec. 21.
McCain and other law officials around the county will meet with children and their parents at Wal-Mart around 4 p.m. everyday except Saturday.
"On Saturday we will conclude Shop with a Cop with children that were selected by Sergeant Kelvin Brown from the Mound Bayou Police Department, he usually selects around 15 kids," McCain added.
Those interested in donating to the program can bring money to the Cleveland Police Department or contact McCain at 662-843-3611 for more details.