When a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy read the name of the child he would be paired with for the annual Shop With A Cop holiday tradition, his breath caught in his throat.

Deputy Chad Allen stared at the paper, which listed the items the boy wanted and what size clothes he wears. But Allen hadn’t read that far yet. All he could do was stare at the name on the paper.

“Jace Stigall” was written at the top. Goosebumps were all over Allen’s arms as he held back tears.

About a year ago, Allen was the first officer on the scene of a fatal accident that killed Jace’s father, Mark Stigall. But it wasn’t just the connection to Jace through his father’s accident that had Allen at a loss for words. Allen works with Jace’s mother and has gotten to know her and the family more in the last year since the accident. Neither Allen nor Julie Stigall knew the other was involved in the Shop With A Cop program this year, Allen said.

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More than 35 officers from across Johnson County stood in a line at Meijer on Saturday morning waiting to be assigned to one of the 33 children who were benefiting from the charity event.

And just as the officers had lined up, the names of the children were passed out in no particular order. The coincidence that paired Stigall with Allen was truly Christmas magic.

“Nothing can compare to the feelings of today,” Allen said. “I didn’t know whether to cry for the kid or be excited for him. I was speechless. I may break down later today when it really sinks in.”

Allen was also randomly paired with officer Evan Preston, who works with Allen and Jace’s mother, Julie. Both were excited to spend the two hours shopping with Jace, they said.

During the shopping excursion, 9-year-old Jace was reserved and quiet.

“You have to be wondering what responsibilities does he feel, maybe he didn’t ask for Christmas gifts this year because he didn’t feel like his mom could get it,” Allen said. “You just wonder what it’s been like for him and you feel so helpless. So we were so excited to help.”

The past year has been very difficult, said Julie Stigall, who works at the Center Grove Schools police department.

When Julie came to pick up Jace and his older brother, Clay, Allen and Preston approached her with a big hug and a smile on their faces, anxious to tell her how the morning had unfolded.

Both Preston and Allen have big hearts, Julie Stigall said.

For the officers, participating in the event was a change of pace and refreshing.

Shop With A Cop is a chance to get their minds off the bad days on the job, such as accidents like the one Allen had to respond to last year. Every year, deputy Joey Werzberger dedicates time to Shop With A Cop for the genuinely good people he gets to meet, Werzberger said.

Werzberger shopped with 16-year-old Megan Mays on Saturday morning. Mays lives with her sister’s family because her other situation was unstable.

Without Shop With A Cop, Mays and her sister — along with her sister’s children — wouldn’t have a Christmas this year, Mays said.

“Our main goal is to give a kid Christmas because they deserve it like every other kid,” said Randy Werden, chief deputy at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “These are good kids.”

Werden organizes and coordinates the annual charity event. Each year, the Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police tries to raise close to $12,000 through fundraisers such as bean bag tournaments and chili cookoffs.

Werden learns about families and children in need through the United Way of Johnson County’s Christmas Angels program and local schools and churches. Each child at the event has about $250 to spend and also receives a book and a stuffed animal at the checkout.

Each child’s wish list includes toys, but officers are encouraged to take the child to buy clothes before hitting the toy aisle.

Officer Adam Joseph and his wife, Amber, were participating in their sixth Shop With A Cop and the clothes-first-request from the charity organizers was not a problem for the 5-year-old girl they were matched with. When Joseph and his wife asked her what she wanted before the shopping began, she made it clear she wasn’t there for any toys or games.

“She told us she wanted shirts, pants and that she loves pink,” Adam Joseph said. “She likes her dolls, but she wanted clothes. She was hesitant to tell us what she liked, but once I told her she didn’t have to like everything we picked out, she started calling the shots.”

Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at celliot@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2719.