WL Lions make 'Shop with a Cop,' other donations

Organization dishes out $650 at meeting


West Liberty Police Chief Eric Werling is not giving up on helping local youths to a better Christmas.

The new chief made another “Shop with a Cop” presentation Monday evening, Nov. 22, to the West Liberty Lions Club, which reciprocated with a $250 donation, enough for one underprivileged child to shop for his family for the holidays.

Werling set a goal of raising $6,250 just weeks ago to benefit a total of 25 youngsters in pre-school to eighth grade in the West Liberty schools, including partnering with new Atalissa police chief Matt Bowers to help a couple youngsters in the neighboring community.

Working with officer Kim Halpain who helped start the program in West Liberty four years ago, Werling says he’s talking to school district personnel to identify youngsters who may not otherwise have a merry Christmas.

He told the Lions when the community gobbled up 210 free Halloween costumes and dozens of accessories in three days before the late October holiday, he realized a huge need in the school district communities and his officers decided it might be time to beef up the Shop with a Cop program that typically benefits about 10 kids.

He’s talked to a number of groups and got a $2,000 grant from Walmart in Muscatine, where the children will shop on Dec. 8 with officers from all over the area. Werling, who came to the community in August, said the program took a different angle last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where cops were given a list to shop without the kids, but he says it’s so much more fun and rewarding when the youngsters are at their side.

He says his department has campaigned to find 18 officers so far from eight different agencies, noting his department will likely reciprocate in helping neighboring Shop with a Cop programs.

The chief said the nationwide program started when an officer took a couple of youths out for breakfast and followed up with a holiday shopping trip to benefit their families. Werling says typically the youths aren’t shopping for themselves, but picking gifts for siblings and parents or typical household needs.

“It’s been amazing,” Werling said of the outpouring from the community, noting he hasn’t heard anyone turn the department down when asking for donations, including items for a breakfast that morning.

In other business, the Lions donated $150 to the Iowa Leader Dog program for people with sight problems and other disabilities as well as providing a $250 donation to Camp Hertko Hollow, a special place for diabetic youths.

The Lions set their annual Christmas program for late January in Iowa City, appointing Jim Blair a chairman of the event.

The organization also talked about helping the West Liberty Food Pantry at First Church United and the Voluntary Action Committee with door-to-door food basket deliveries on Friday, Dec. 17, Lions asked to meet at 3:30 p.m. at the church.

The organization also raised the annual price of their “Flags over West Liberty” program by $5 to help cover rising costs of flags and materials. The Lions have attracted about 180 area homes and businesses to place flags in their yard on five different holidays throughout the year including Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

Anyone interested in having a flag placed in their yard should contact chairman Dean Beranek or any Lion. The program is the largest fundraiser for the organization, which benefits the community in many ways with events and donations.

The group meets on the first and third Monday with a meal meeting at the West Liberty Golf & Country Club beginning at 6:30 p.m. Anyone is welcome to join the group and learn more about their community work. Ron Jensen is president of the organization.