Sheriff’s Office continues tradition that almost didn’t happen this year

Staff Report
Among those from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office who converged at the Plaquemine Walmart for “Shop with a Cop” were, from left: Sheriff Brett Stassi, Deputy Trevor Alleman, Deputy Chad Martin, Deputy Cody Ash, Deputy Allan Engolio, Deputy Gunnar Ourso, Deputy Dianne Gillis, Detective Jeremy Balcuns, Kalya Callegan, Detective Aubrey St. Angelo, Detective Zane Hebert, Laura Morales, Deputy Brooklyn Marionneaux, Kari McGinnis, McKenzie Wille, Chanta Butler, Gabbe Pupera and Detective Leslie Bradford. In the front row are Leslie Verret and Detective Lori Morgan.

A longtime holiday tradition almost became “The Christmas That Wasn’t” for the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, until circumstances made Sheriff Brett Stassi reconsider.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic left Stassi uncertain about whether to do the annual Christmas donations to needy families, but it did not take him long to reconsider.

Deputy Chad Martin spars in a light saber battle with his shopping buddy.

“I was thinking of another plan, but we started getting calls from guidance counselors from the schools who were waiting for the paperwork,” he said. “The people from schools told us this tradition was needed more than ever.”

Stassi agreed, and the tradition continued.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi is seen with Santa during the “Shop with a Cop” Christmas shopping event for kids at the Plaquemine location of Walmart.

Deputies brought 20 children on a Christmas shopping trip during what has been one of the toughest years for families, many of whom have been sick or out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to make the move, and I’m so glad we did it,” Stassi said.

In a year that will likely never be described as “normal,” the Christmas shop itself did not consist of the typical spree down a toy aisle.

Captain Will Danielfield and Deputy Shalanda Thomas visit with a shopping buddy and Santa.

“It really said a lot,” Stassi said. “When we put each kid with a deputy and put their name on the cart, they would make stops down an aisle to buy cereal.

“Another got a pink, fuzzy jacket – something kids don’t normally do,” he said. “They were doing that instead of running down the toy aisle.”

Deputy Allen Engolio is seen here with his shopping buddies.

In many cases, deputies reached into their own pockets to shell out a few extra bucks for the children who went over the $250 limit.

The sponsors of the program ultimately made the difference, Stassi said.

“Without them, there would be no “Shop with a Cop,” he said. “And when deputies reached into their pockets to pay for the last item, it really makes it to where the deputies aren’t not only there but are also a part of the process … it really means something.”

As part of the process, the sheriff’s office takes the toys, wraps them and gives them to the parents.

“It gives a little more dignity to parents who are struggling,” Stassi said. “By doing that, they don’t have to look in the living room and not see too many things under the tree. This becomes part of their tradition that they had something for Christmas.”

The sheriff’s office also used some of the money for hams and turkeys for families who can’t afford one.

The program has another benefit, Stassi said.

“If one of these kids come across a deputy and think they’re not worth a damn, this kind of program proves they’re not bad people … this can really change some minds.

The decision to continue the tradition puts a glimmer of happiness on what has been a bad year for the world, the nation, Iberville Parish and Stassi himself.

Stassi had been hospitalized and has since recovered from coronavirus. He also lost his father, longtime Plaquemine Selectman Ralph Stassi, a short time later.

“I’ll be so happy when we’re finished with 2020,” he said.

THOSE WHO MADE IT POSSIBLE … Funds for the event were donated by the following: Mary and Michael Johnson, Dow Chemical Co., Shintech, Plant Security Inc., Santa’s Helper, P.J. D’Albor Furniture Inc., SNF Holding Company, Acacia Lodge No. 116 F&M, Pendley Law Firm, Peacock Communications, M&P Barge Co. Inc., Toni Jones, Edward J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing Co. LLC, St. Louis Planting In., Grosse Tete-Rosedale Lions Club, F. Barry Marionneaux, Iberville Glass Inc., Viallon Drug Co. Inc., “We Are the Difference,” Daniel Durand: Allstate Insurance, Krewe of Comogo, Comeaux Brothers Construction, Mrs. Richard Diamond, Committee to Elect Elizabeth Engolio, Emily Hamilton and Knights of Columbus Council 970.

Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office also extended special thanks to the Plaquemine Fire Department for escorting Santa, “We Are the Difference” for use of their facility and Walmart Plaquemine for accommodating the young shoppers.