CINCINNATI — One of the Cincinnati Police Department's most cherished holiday traditions kicked off Monday, but the coronavirus pandemic dialed down the volume on the typical fanfare. Even still, the impact was already huge after its first day.
During a typical "Get the Groceries" event with CPD, officers would accompany -- in a single day -- more than 100 local children and their families in need through grocery stores, to help purchase food and other necessary items. But the blitzkrieg had to go on hold this year due to COVID-19, and the department has spread out the event over the course of three days, to keep crowds small.
That didn't make shopping with a cop any less meaningful to 9-year-old Amare, who, along with his grandmother, attended the event at the Oakley Kroger store Monday morning. Amare's grandmother, Candace Winn, said the young boy found his mother had died in her sleep two days after Thanksgiving.
"We just got to keep him close and let him know that, just because Momma ain't here, things like this still happen," Winn told WCPO. "This right here, it kind of like let him know that he got a big support system."
The officer who shopped with Amare met the boy at a boxing gym before the pandemic began. Winn said he made sure Amare got this pick-me-up Monday.
Even a scaled-back event like this week's "Get the Groceries" carries extra meaning at the end of a year in which opportunities to connect with the neighborhoods they serve have been limited.
Officers used to visiting schools and community meetings this year have decorated a tree in the lobby of their district headquarters where kids can pick up a voucher to take a gift from the tree.
District One had a Metro bus filled with gifts ready to set up for kids to collect. The other districts have filled their own buses, too.
Even connecting with their fellow officers has been a challenge during the pandemic.
"We talk about community and being together to say, 'Hey, I need a soundboard,'" said Officer Chip Todd with CPD District One's Neighborhood Liaison Unit. "COVID and all of this has stopped this soundboard because I have to distance myself from you ... So, who do I come to when I have an issue?"
Todd said events like this one give officers the chance to reconnect with the people they serve and those they serve with.
"As a community and as a police department, we both scored, two touchdowns. We're winning."