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Officers play Santa for Saline County childrenPublished December 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
BENTON — On Dec. 17, several dozen children from Saline County will go Christmas shopping escorted by law enforcement officers.
The officers are not body guards for kids with lots of cash. Rather, the police are helping to bring Christmas to children who might not have been able to have presents exchanged in their families.
The 16th annual Shop With Our Cops program will bring 40 to 50 children for a shopping spree at the Walmart Supercenter in Benton, funded by local businesses, individual donations from county residents and, often, by the officers themselves.
The program started in 1998 and included officers from Alexander, Bauxite, Benton, Bryant, Haskell, Shannon Hills, the Saline County Sheriff’s Office and the Arkansas Health Center Campus Police.
“This is a long-running program, and it has benefited so many children over the years,” said Tamera Gore, Saline County police chaplain, who coordinates the program. “It was started by the [Saline County] Chaplains Association to ensure that children from all across the county aren’t forgotten during the holidays.”
Gore said funds are being raised so more children can participate in Shop With Our Cops and so they can have more money to spend, not only on themselves, but for other family members. In 2010, the program allowed almost 50 children, selected by their elementary-school counselors, to take part. Each child got $150 to spend, the largest amount ever, Gore said.
“We tell the children that the first thing they should buy is a gift for their family,” she said. “Then the officers will buy clothes and shoes for the child. The officers are very good at helping them find good deals on what they buy.”
Then the children, most of them between the ages of 5 and 10, get to select presents for themselves with the leftover money.
Last year, on the day of the event, Walmart contributed $1,000 to the effort. Gore said several businesses in the community contribute to the fund, but most of the money donated every year is from individuals throughout the area.
“When we tell people what we are doing, they just start donating,” she said. “That sustains us every year.”
The officers volunteer their time to go around the huge store with the children and help them shop. Last year as one child cruised down the the aisle to the toy department, an unmarried police officer said being a shopping escort was probably good training for future fatherhood.
Another law enforcement officer who took part in the shopping event last year said he wanted to make sure the child had plenty of winter clothes.
“If that takes away from the money for presents, I will add a little something,” he said.
Gore said she often sees children and parents in tears after the shopping is done.
“And yes, sometimes there are tears in the eyes of the officers,” she said.
This year the Bryant Police Department has started its own Christmas shopping program. Bryant’s Santa With a Badge program also involves police officers donating their time to take a group of children shopping. Just as with the other shopping program, children are selected in Bryant by social workers at the elementary schools.
“Donated gift cards will be provided to each child, who then will select Christmas gifts for their family members and spend a certain amount on themselves while shopping at Walmart in Bryant,” Bryant Police Chief Mark Kizer said in the department’s announcement of the shopping program. The event is strongly supported by the Bryant Fraternal Order of Police and by people who are willing to donate.
Kizer said the goal of Bryant’s first event will be to take at least 34 children shopping.
To contribute to the Saline County Shop With Our Cops program, call Gore at (501) 351-7185.
To donate to the Bryant program, make checks payable to Bryant FOP Santa with a Badge and mail them to Bryant Police Department, 312 Roya Lane, Bryant, AR 72022.
“It is a fun night,” Gore said. “We all get a lot more out of it than giving.”
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.