Christmas will be different this year for Hannah and William Horn.
Instead of countless colorful toys and stockings stuffed with candy, the 10- and 11-year-old will get blue jeans without holes. They’ll get sweaters thick enough to keep them warm.
Instead of the usual visit from Santa Claus, the boy and his sister may instead cherish the memory of that policewoman who sang and danced her way through the aisles of the Gainesville Target, piling necessities — and yes, even a toy or two — in their shopping cart.
It’s a given that mom, Patricia Wigginton of Gainesville, will never forget this. Having lost her job as a medical scribe three months ago, she’s tried to get back on her feet. But the days ticked by. Before she knew it, Christmastime was right around the corner.
As a parent, the thought of not being able to provide for your children is devastating. And the kind of financial hardship that prevents putting presents under the Christmas tree can break one’s very spirit.
“Thank God for these people,” Wigginton said Saturday morning as she watched her children sort through a stack of sweaters with Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sam Harn. “This has been a blessing.”
Wigginton’s children were among 34 other kids Saturday at the Gainesville Target, as well as members of the Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia State Patrol for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 41’s annual “Shop with a Cop.”
It was the local store’s 10th year in a row hosting the early morning gathering, according to Target assets protection team leader Alex Mund.
“Our partnerships with law enforcement are very critical, so whenever we have this type of program ... it’s always something we want to be involved in,” Mund said, adding that “the light on the faces of the children who participate ... that’s my Christmas gift every year. Seeing them happy.”
Happiness was an apt description for 6-year-old Sarah White of Gainesville as she sifted through a pile of folded pajamas with Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nicole Bailes. Proudly, the girl showed off a pair of slippers she’d found earlier during their holiday shopping.
Meanwhile, twin 9-year-olds Devin and Dylan Flanagan scoped out a race car in the toy section. Dylan also dug through the buggy to show off a package of new socks, a leather jacket and a pair of pants.
“These (law enforcement officials), they’re taking their time out here with these kids,” said the boys’ grandfather, Tommy Bunn. “These kids will remember this forever.”
Devin and Dylan’s mother, Nakisha Bunn, is a single parent.
“It’s not easy,” Tommy Bunn said. “I know, because I was a single parent to three daughters. Having somebody pitch in and help out like this ... it means the world.”
Sgt. Mike Burgamy of the Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division said the annual effort is “a way for (Lodge No. 41) to reach out to the community and help provide Christmas for some children. That’s what we’re all about.”
Added Burgamy, who is also president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 41: “This is a way to provide a Christmas for those children who might not otherwise have it this year.”
He said each child is allotted $150 for the event. Through donations this year, Lodge No. 41 was able to sponsor 36 children — six more than the previous year’s gathering.
Wigginton said she was “thrilled” that her children had made the cut. She received a recent call from Hannah’s and William’s school counselor who informed her the siblings had been selected as recipients.
Deputy Sam Harn pushed a full-to-the-brim shopping cart through the store Saturday morning, literally skipping along with Hannah and William as they made their way over to the electronics section. Once there, they hid behind a Blu-ray movie display. They waited, and as mom approached from another direction, all three jumped out to surprise her.
Harn said she was “having a blast” with Hannah and William.
“I enjoy kids, and I enjoy Christmas, and I get to put the two together today. It makes me happy,” she said.
Wigginton said the whole morning had been nothing short of an answered prayer.
“It’s very touching. It means a whole lot, because some people are having a really hard time with their current situation,” Wigginton said. “It’s nice to know there’s people out there willing to step up and make sure others can have a good Christmas.”