EMERSON, N.J. – Ten-year-old Ben Danenza and his 7-year-old brother, John, led Emerson Police Officer Brendan Rizza up and down the aisles at Toys “R” Us in Paramus on Thursday.
Rizza pushed their blue cart and made suggestions as the brothers looked for the best -- and most -- toys they could buy for $150.
“I think these guys are a little too worried about the money. They’ve got to just have fun,” Rizza said. “They’re picky shoppers. They want to make sure they get something they really like, which is good.”
After 45 minutes, the smiling officer took a quick inventory of the cart's contents: a nerf gun, a video game, a LEGO set.
Along with the boys’ parents, Michael and Elizabeth Danenza, they were one of three groups of kids who won a “Shop with a Cop” shopping spree.
The three $150 prizes were funded through a beefsteak dinner sponsored by the borough’s Memorial Elementary School PTA.
Emerson Police Chief Donald Rossi came up with the idea last year after seeing a story about police officers in Michigan shopping with deprived children.
“Every year the PTA raffles off police chief for a day, fire chief for a day, mayor for a day,” Rossi said. “I thought this would be something nice, so I offered it to the PTA, too. We have the funds through our community policing account.”
Last year, the officers took out three children. It was so much fun, Rossi said, that the department decided to do it again.
“This is another example of something special we do in Emerson,” Rossi said, adding that his department also offers a DARE program, a picnic for the sixth-grade safety patrol, a cop campout, an open house, and a pasta night for seniors.
The other two groups of shoppers Thursday were: Officer George Featherstone and 8-year-old Keira Decker, who wanted to make sure she spent some of her money on gifts for other people, and Det. Ryan Sokerka, who shopped with Nick Milo, 8, and his sister, Danielle, 5.
“This is nice because the officers interact with the kids so well,” said Amy Milo, the children’s mother. “Since the kids get to know the police officers, they won’t be afraid to go to one if they need help.”
Plus, she said, her children were learning to share since they had to split $150 worth of toys between them.
Sokerka took stock of what his group had chosen: a Judy’s Police Cruiser from Zootopia and a Stats Blast nerf gun.
“It’s great to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s great just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces.”