Santa’s helpers still wear green, but they were packing a little extra hardware this year.
On Friday afternoon, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office hosted its annual “Shop with a Cop” event at the Wal-Mart on U.S. 29 in Pensacola. Deputies escorted 63 area underserved children through the store as the kids bought Christmas gifts for themselves and their families.
Six-year-old Amiyah was on the hunt for Barbie makeup, a “Frozen” dress and new shoes.
Gabriel, 12, was shopping for a bike, new clothes and some action figures.
Each child participating in the event was provided a $200 gift card and encouraged to shop not just for themselves, but for their parents and siblings. The children came from difficult home situations and were hand-picked for the program by the Escambia County School District to ensure they enjoyed a Merry Christmas.
Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies and select students shop for Christmas gifts at Wal Mart on Hwy 29 Friday afternoon. The annual “Shop with a Cop” event gives the selected student to but Christmas gifts for themselves or loved one.
The Sheriff’s Office has been hosting the event for the past four years, and Shop with a Cop is funded through seized drug money and support from community sponsors.
Cmdr. Dale Tharp, who organizes the event each year with help from Captain Robby Martin and Lt. Ken Simmons, said the event is one of the most rewarding things he has done in his 35-year-law enforcement career. He added that he typically has to turn away deputies hoping to volunteer, and that the program helps form bonds between children and law enforcement.
“You hear so many negative things in the media,” Tharp said. “This is just a way to remind them, we’re the good guys.
Each year, the Sheriff’s Office has increased the scope of the event to include more children and give them larger amounts to spend. Wal-Mart has partnered with the ECSO on the event for the past three years, and after the shopping, the store provided the kids with a free meal.
Simmons stressed Shop with a Cop wouldn’t be possible without the help of all the businesses, individuals and deputies who pitched in, and said there was no way to put a price on the joy and excitement the kids take away from the event.
“We try to reach as many kids as we can with it,” Simmons said. “The deputies meet the kids and the families beforehand and form a bond. We want them to know they’re not just their officer for the event, they’re their officer for life.”
Children laughed, joked and meandered through the aisles Friday, leading eager deputies who helped fill their shopping carts with LEGO sets, tablets, board games and other goodies.
Sgt. David Brown, who was escorting Gabriel, described it as an awesome experience.
“Of all the things we get to do in life, not only as an agency but as individuals, this is the greatest thing you can do,” Brown said.