Gainesville Police Department officials helped 16 students to have a bountiful Christmas on Friday who otherwise wouldn't have had one.
As part of their eighth annual "Shop with a Gainesville Cop" program, the department's three school resource officers and two crime prevention officers felt like kids again as they picked out presents for the elementary through high school students.
"It's been great every year," said Officer Joe Britte. "Just to see the smiles on the kids' faces is awesome. Times are tough, and we understand financial difficulties. If we had the opportunity, we would sponsor everybody."
Guidance counselors and officers at each school create a list of students and gifts each year, with this year's list including clothes, popular toys and a bicycle.
Gainesville's Rotary Club pitches in $1,000, Walmart puts in $1,500 and police officers throw in a few dollars of their own.
"We love shopping for the kids. If we go over, we never want to put any toys back," Britte said. "We all look each other and know we're going to get it anyway. We usually pitch in around $100."
Crime prevention officers Britte and Kevin Holbrook teamed up with SROs Charles Newman of Gainesville High School, Chris Coy of Woods Mill Academy and Brian Clark of Gainesville Middle School to wrap gifts and help Santa hand out presents.
"Shopping around really opens your eyes to what the hottest new toys are," Britte said. "Things have changed.
When I was growing up, going outside was a privilege, but now with the PSP and XBOX and Wii and laptops, we're seeing more indoor games."
On Dec. 11, Hall County Sheriff's officers held their own Shop with a Cop event, giving a $150 shopping spree to more than 35 kids for winter clothes, shoes and a toy at the Gainesville Target.
The Flowery Branch Police Department also shopped with kids Dec. 11, giving five children $400 to buy gifts for themselves and their families at the Flowery Branch Walmart.
As parents watched their excited children, many couldn't thank the officers enough. Without this, their children wouldn't have a Christmas.
"It brings the kid out in all of us," Britte said. "It's a great way to end a good year."