Southpoint Sun
Tuesday April 24, 2018, 4:14 am

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Grocers support Cop Camp
By Bryan Jessop

Regardless of the number of locations, support for an annual OPP youth program has checked out favourably.

A team of about 70 Essex County OPP officers, auxiliary officers, civilian employees and Community Policing Committee members were dispersed between Zehr’s grocery stores in Kingsville and Tecumseh in support of this year’s Cop Camp. The annual fundraiser took place Thursday, March 29 at the two centres — down from the five that included stores in Leamington, Essex and Lakeshore in previous years where participating OPP personnel bagged customers’ groceries upon checkout in exchange for voluntary donations.

To compensate, the hours of operation for the Cop Camp funding generator expanded from eight hours to 12, starting at 8 a.m. and wrapping up at about 8 p.m. in both Kingsville and Tecumseh. Each year, the OPP grocery-bagging event takes place the day before Good Friday, which many food outlets describe as their busiest business day of the year.

Despite the 60 per cent reduction in locations to host the event, Essex County OPP personnel were happy with the community’s response and steady flow of contributions.

“The people of Essex County are always so generous,” said OPP constable and Leamington detachment community safety officer Stephanie Moniz. “This is huge for us. We need it if we’re going to continue the camp from year to year. It’s lovely to see how supportive people are.”

Each year, the grocery-packing event is the Essex County OPP Cop Camp’s biggest fundraiser, rivaled only by its annual golf tournament hosted by the Kingsville Golf and Country Club. The local facility, with 27 holes, is the only golf course in Essex County large enough to accommodate the number of participants who register each year. For 2017, the combined number of OPP personnel and other members of the community who participated in the tournament reached the 220 mark.

Customers who visited either of the two Zehr’s stores during the Cop Camp grocery fundraiser’s hours were offered a ballot to submit for the chance to win one of two gift baskets. In Kingsville, the schedule of grocery bagging was originally set to start at 9 a.m., but the team of 30 to 35 volunteers were instead encouraged to arrive for 8 a.m., as the store typically experiences a high flow of customer traffic starting early in the work day.

Shortly after the yearly grocery packing event concludes, Essex County OPP staff members begin making arrangements and plans for that year’s Cop Camp. This year’s week-long series of events will run at Gesstwood Camp in Essex from August 12 to 16. For each of the past 23 years, elementary school students from the Grade 6 Values and Influences in Peers (VIP) program are selected to attend the camp, hosted by about 20 Essex County OPP staff volunteers who act as cooks and councilors. One graduating student from each class of the VIP program originating from a school in a municipality policed by the Essex County OPP is selected to attend the camp. With OPP services in Leamington, Kingsville, Lakeshore, Essex and Tecumseh, about 80 students are picked each year to participate in Cop Camp.

“It’s not always the students with the best grades,” said Moniz, who leads the VIP course in Leamington. “This is an opportunity for those who show good leadership qualities. This is a way to get them thinking about their community, to give them that great feeling that comes with volunteering.”

Although the list of activities for the 2018 camp have not officially been mapped out, it will likely include return trips to Empire Lanes Bowling in Ruthven and the fishing and boating excursion hosted by John Sim of Chante Fishing Charters and the Cedar Island Yacht Club, both based in Kingsville. Although similar programs are offered in other OPP jurisdictions across the province through the OPP Youth Camp, Essex County’s Cop Camp has stood out as a unique experience for selected VIP graduates.

“Other counties have tried something similar, but nothing compares to this,” said Moniz. “It’s the only one this size — we’re pretty proud of it.”

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