CHICAGO - More than 100 Chicago area children got a special holiday gift on Thursday. The children are all at risk, their families facing challenging circumstances. But on Thursday, the kids got a special day of bowling, shopping and a rare chance to bond with a police officer.
Their day began with a little bowling and a whole lot of dancing. And right by their side were Chicago police officers.
"I love to dance, I love kids, so it works well," one of the officers said.
It is the 11th Annual Izzy's Shop with a Cop. Izzy is former Chicago Bear Israel Idonije.
"I grew up in Chicago. I was a kid when I got here. This great city, the leaders in the city, the community members helped mentor and helped me grow. So it's important for me to reach back and support and uplift the future," he said.
After some pizza for lunch, the group made their way to Target. Each of the more than 100 children, many whose families are in temporary housing, got to pair up with a Chicago police officer.
"It's a great opportunity for officers to bond with children from the neighborhood they patrol," Kevin Navarro, CPD first deputy superintendent, said. "The kids can see the officers as more than just an officer on the beat, as a human being. So it's a very positive interaction."
With a $100 gift card, they got to pick out presents for themselves and their family. Along the way, they built trust and understanding.
"I want the youth to come to us for anything that they need. I don't want them to fear the police. We're here to help them, we're here to keep them safe," one police officer said.
And some of the kids had shout-outs they wanted to share.
"Hi Grandpa, Hi Daddy. This is the best time I ever had," one child said.
"Hey grandma I know you're always watching the news, I'm here now. Hi," another child said.
"At the end of the day, one of these young men and woman, many of them will go on and hopefully do this for another generation of kids and that's what it's all about," Idonije said.
About 40 Chicago police officers participated. Some were there for the first time.
When ABC 7 asked the kids what they wanted to say to the officers and Israel Idonije, the overwhelming response was, "Thank you. This was the best day ever."