ELIZABETH, NJ – Elizabeth Police Officer Jennifer Perez leaned on the shopping cart, waiting for 11-year-old Walter and six-year-old Monica Bohorquez, along with their mother, Fatima, to start their shopping spree at The Mills at Jersey Gardens, January 12.
The event was Shop with a Cop, a program of LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) Only, an international non-profit. The organization, which now has 30,000 members worldwide, was started by Pennsylvania State Trooper Craig Polen as a support group for law enforcement officers. He quickly realized that the children of deceased officers often needed special attention. The idea of Christmas shopping sprees was born.
“We wanted the children to know they were not forgotten,” said LEO Only board member Wilbur Lloyd, a Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer, who accompanied the shoppers. He noted that in the two years the organization has been in existence approximately 160 children have gone shopping, courtesy of LEO Only. “This year, we took 69 children,” said Officer Lloyd. “We raise the money. We take no salaries or get any benefits. Everything that comes in, goes out.”
The Walter Bohorquez family was nominated by their friend and neighbor, Port Authority Officer Jose Serrano. “We met at the bus stop with our children and realized we did the same work,” said Officer Serrano. “Our children became friends and so did we.”
Walter Bohorquez, an Elizabeth Police Officer for 27 years, lost his two-year battle with pancreatic cancer in October. Nicknamed Robocop – “I have heard many explanations why, but nobody really knows,” said Officer Perez -- he was a respected and popular member of the department. During their free time, his fellow officers would take him to the doctors and help in other ways. Said Officer Perez, “I was there every weekend, taking the family to the beach and doing whatever I could to help. There has been an outpouring of support that people have shown him and his family.”
For Fatima Borohquez, that support has amazed her. “They just do it from the heart. This support is more emotional than about the money.”
With $400 each to spend, the children were off to shop in one of the largest malls on the East Coast. First stop for Walter was the kiosk selling hoverboards. He chose a red one. Next, it was a trip to Under Armor for shoes. Not finding the ones he wanted, Walter settled for three video games.
Sister Monica visited the Toys R Us store for Barbie dolls and accessories. The Justice store was her next stop for a supply of warm weather clothes. She had help from Meilani Perez, the officer's eight-year-old daughter.
Although Fatima would have preferred that cancer not touch their lives, she is thankful for help she has received. She has been known to say, “God brings you tragedy, but some blessings, too.”
For more information about LEO Only, visit https://leo-only.org/ .