- Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Her father, unable to find work here, had to go back. And Anylianis, 5, speaks only Spanish, making it difficult to communicate with her peers at Forest Park Elementary.
On Tuesday, she and several of her classmates were invited to go on a $100 shopping spree at Walmart with Boynton Beach Police. Accompanied by Sgt. Ray De Los Rios, Anylianis picked out gifts for herself such as toy dinosaurs, a Snuggles puppy and a tablet to help her learn English.
“It’s very rewarding for us,” De Los Rios said. “Especially for them coming in from Puerto Rico the impact we have on them it’s just great because they’re not looking at us as the bad police officers. They’re looking at us not only a figure of authority but as part of the community that we’re doing something great for them, that we’re approachable.
“Instead of having the bridge between us, the police and the community, we’re part of the community. Humanizing the badge.”
The event marked the 11th Shop With a Cop, when officers shop for the holidays with children who teachers decide are in need. The children can buy for themselves or for family on Walmart’s dime.
Amy Hoffman, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy who previously worked for Boynton police, made Anylianis’ experience even more special by buying her a bicycle. Hoffman also bought a bike for Heldin Antumes Hernandez, 9, who recently had his bike stolen, and John Salmeron, also 9, who recently had a tragedy in his family.
“There’s still a lot of good-hearted people around,” Forest Park guidance counselor Jessy Canton said.
Boynton police will have another Shop With a Cop event next week. In all, 70 children from seven schools will shop with an officer. Tuesday was for students from Poinciana, Galaxy and Forest Park elementaries.
“It’s an opportunity to interact with us on a level where they normally wouldn’t,” Assistant Chief Kelly Harris said. “It’s an amazing event and it’s so cool to see the kids. They have a whole list to buy for their family it’s not just for them. It’s refreshing and it puts a good smile on the officers’ faces too.”
Ja’Mari Holiday, a 9-year-old 4th grader at Poinciana shopped with Officer Ramiro Alegria.
The officer helped Ja’Mari pick out a Fast and Furious truck and a Wilson football. He also picked out Curves perfume for his mother.
Ja’Mari said he’s met police before when they investigated an incident at his grandmother’s home. He said he planned to tell his friends about the day.
“It feels good to know that they’re helpful,” Ja’Mari said of the officers.