Cops play Santa for Saline County children

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Alexander Police Chief Horace Walters looks over one of the Christmas gifts selected by Anyi Flores during the annual Shop With Our Cops night in Benton. Children who might not have had anything for Christmas were selected by their elementary-school teachers to go shopping with a Saline County law enforcement officer.

— A group of law enforcement officers were gathered in the main aisle of the Walmart Supercenter in Benton on Tuesday night as a group of young people waited in line to see their assigned police escort.

It wasn’t a mass arrest but the annual Shop With Our Cops event, which sends children who might not otherwise have any Christmas presents on a shopping trip with law enforcement officers from Saline County.

Officers who help the kids include deputies from the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, county juvenile and probation officers and police from Alexander, Bauxite, Benton, Bryant, Haskell, Shannon Hills, Traskwood and the Arkansas Health Center Campus Police.

“The children are selected by their elementary-school teachers in Saline County,” said Tamra Gore, Saline County police chaplain. “The teachers pick out students from information gathered from their parents.”

The law enforcement officers have a lot of fun helping the children pick out gifts for family members, as well as for the child’s own Christmas.

“I’ve taken part in this event from the very beginning, 18 years ago,” Haskell Police Chief Mike Holt said. “I have loved every minute of it. Chaplain Gore has accomplished so much with this event.”

Almost 50 children will go Christmas shopping under the program, Gore said.

“We had 41 kids Tuesday night, and I had taken two earlier who could not be at the event,” Gore said. “I took six more children the next day.”

Each child had $150 to spend on presents and clothing. That is the largest amount ever.

“On the day of the event, Walmart contributed $1,000,” Gore said. “It is all possible because of the generous donors who give unselfishly to help their children.”

While some businesses in the county contribute to the gift fund, most of the money comes from individual county residents, she said, adding that many give in memory of loved ones who have died.

“They tell the children that the first thing they buy must be a gift for someone else,” Gore said. “Then the officers will buy them some clothes and shoes. The officers are very good about helping them make good use of their money.”

Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington and his wife, Barbara, were helping one youngster buy several outfits for school and some shoes.

“We always make sure they have plenty of winter school clothes,” the sheriff said. “If it takes away from the money for presents, I often add a little something.”

A few aisles away, Alexander Police Chief Horace Walters was talking with Anji Flores as they picked out a new winter coat.

Nearby, Connor Martin was shopping with Benton police officer Robert Shell. The youngster had already selected a Thomas the Train set for his younger brother before selecting a pigtail hat for himself.

As his kid cruised down the aisle to the toy section, an unmarried police officer said being a shopping escort is probably good training for future fatherhood.

Gore said the children

selected to shop with the law enforcement officers have

endured some hard times.

“I found out that two of the children there Monday night had seen their home burn down just the day before,” the police chaplain said. “Some were homeless. It is a good thing to help these children.”

She said it is common to see children cry with excitement and joy when they are ready to leave with their gifts.

“It was a fun night, and we all get a lot more out of it than the giving.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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