Unlike some other instances, the police cars parked outside of Macy’s in South Hills Village early on the morning of Aug. 21 were there for a positive reason.

The department store hosted Back-to-School Shop With a Cop, with Pennsylvania State Police troopers joining officers from local departments to help put smiles on the faces of youngsters and their parents.

Melinda Bondarenka

Melinda Bondarenka has organized Shop With a Cop events for three regional Macy's locations this year, including South Hills Village.

“We have 20 kids here who have $250 to spend each,” Melinda Bondarenka, a trooper with the State Police Office of Community Engagement, said. “Each officer was asked to pick some kids they felt would like to do this or maybe had a traumatic experience in the last year. We have kind of a combination of community service officers and school resource officers, so they know the kids in need in their communities.”

She also serves as director of Allegheny County Camp Cadet, an experience for youth designed to promote better understanding of law enforcement, and she developed a relationship with Macy’s when the corporation made a financial gift to the camp.

During Shop With a Cop, youngsters had the opportunity to ride from the department store’s lower to upper level in police cars. At the front door, they were greeted by enthusiastic members of the Macy’s staff.

“My team loves this. They ask to work for this event,” store manager Mark Ionadi said, despite employees having to be be ready to work at 8 a.m. on a weekend.

“Giving back is a part of our DNA here at Macy’s,” he added. “We love doing events like these, and seeing officers with the kids and being able to provide them what they need for back to school is amazing.”

In addition to the shopping spree, youngsters received backpacks and school supplies courtesy of state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Peters Township. Participating police departments included Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, South Fayette and Upper St. Clair.

Shop With a Cop started at the South Hills Village Macy’s in 2019, but wasn’t held the following year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the event is being expanded to the stores at Monroeville and Ross Park malls.

Mark Ionadi

Store manager Mark Ionadi explains the logistics of the event as Madison, his daughter, watches.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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