It’s not every day a fully uniformed, gun-toting officer of the law wanders through the kid’s section of a department store, pushing a cart full of “Frozen” toys and taking orders from a 5-year-old in pink sequined boots.
That only happens when you Shop with a Cop.
“We enjoy this so much,” said Cpl. Joe Britte of the Gainesville Police Department.
The annual event pairs local underprivileged children with police officers who accompany them through a store and help them select Christmas presents.
Friday, Britte was present at the Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road as his fellow officers took over 22 local children and their families Christmas shopping for the 12th year of Shop with a Gainesville Cop. Thanks to funding from Wal-Mart and Pilgrim’s Progress, each child received $200 for Christmas presents.
The children, who were identified by school counselors as being in need, would not have any presents otherwise.
“It just makes you so happy to see the kids running around, trying to figure out what they want,” said Maj. Carol Martin, interim police chief. “Sometimes they’re not able to (choose). It makes you realize how fortunate a lot of people are, how unfortunate others are.”
Britte said they make sure the families know the money can go toward anything they need.
“We’ve also told them if they need other items, if they need clothes, if they need groceries, to get it,” Britte said. “If you need a Christmas meal, go get it. We try to make it as open as possible.”
All of the officers who helped the children select presents were volunteers.
Saturday morning, members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 41 were on hand for their own round of “Shop with a Cop” at Target in Gainesville. The group includes officers from Gainesville Police, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia State Patrol.
Lowell McNeal, the president of the FOP lodge No. 41, said the organization has been holding the event for 25 years thanks to private donations and volunteer officers.
Saturday’s event welcomed a “preacher’s count” of 35 kids, according to Lowell, each of whom received about $150 for their Christmas gifts.
Donald McDuffie, an FOP chaplain and a 20-year veteran of Shop with a Cop, delivered the prayer that began the Target event.
“Being in law enforcement for over 24 years, I have seen a lot,” McDuffie said. “To see unfortunate families who won’t have a Christmas or a Thanksgiving or anything of that nature, and then to find those kids and have them come here and see the way they act and the expression on their face, it’s just phenomenal.”
But the giving didn’t stop with Christmas.
Lt. Shawn Welsh’s teenage son Zach also helped a child select Christmas presents. When he learned the boy wouldn’t have any gifts for his Dec. 26 birthday, Zach bought him a birthday gift with his own money.
“That’s just the type of person he is,” Welsh said of his son.
The kids who attended the FOP Shop with a Cop ended the morning by going through a special cash register reserved just for them. Several went to fetch bags or shopping carts for their officer friends as they rang up their totals.
“I got a vest, Play-Doh, ‘Monster High’ dolls, clothes, cowgirl boots, and a baby doll and baby doll stuff with it,” said Jalis Cheeks, 7, who said shopping was her favorite part of the event.
Martin expressed pride in her officers who gave up their Friday afternoon or Saturday morning to help bring Christmas to the kids.
“They just want to help out,” Martin said. “That’s why they’re in the business they are.”