Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton pushes a cart filled with clothes and toys toward the cash register Saturday. Heaton and Special Deputy Matt Weber represented the sheriff's department at the event.
Harley Foster's Christmas-- or at least part of it-- came early this year.
The Brazil 11-year-old was one of the 25 children who participated in the Brazil City Police Department's Shop with a Cop program Saturday, an annual fundraising effort which offers children from financially-strapped families a police-escorted shopping spree in the Brazil Wal-Mart.
As he scoured the sales floor with BCPD Reserve Patrolman John Irwin, Harley, a first-time Shop with a Cop participant, explained his fondness for the program.
"It's stuff I can have early," he grinned.
Annette Batchelor, mother of Harley and a 15-year-old daughter, added: "It's stuff Mom can't afford."
Harley's cart filled up quickly, as he and his mother picked out several pairs of jeans and pants, two sweatsuits, two pairs of insulated boots (one was for his sister) and a die-cast model car. Batchelor said her family's current financial struggles would have made it hard to give her kids the Christmas they deserve.
"It's been hard times this year," she said. "I appreciate this so much."
Shop with a Cop programs have become a popular way for local law enforcement agencies to reach out to the communities they serve during the holiday season. A quick internet search turned up similar programs at police and sheriff's departments across the country, in Ames, Iowa, Sheboygan County, Wis., Elko, Nev. and St. Francois County, Mo., to name a few.
The Brazil City Police Department has collected around $4,000 for its 2005 Shop-with-a-Cop program since fundraising began in September. Major benefactors of this year's program included Bethel United Methodist Church, whose chili supper raked in over $700 for the effort, and Wal-Mart, which donated nearly half of the money collected.
Each of the 25 children participating in the program this year was allotted $135. While the officers let the children and their family members buy what they want, they encourage the kids to purchase the warm clothing they'll need to keep them comfortable and healthy through the winter.
Irwin, volunteering for Shop with a Cop for the second time, seemed to be having as much fun as Harley.
"I love it," he said. "Just looking at the kids, even the parents-- it's a great thing. It's a shame we can't do it more than once a year."
Chief Mark Loudermilk has coordinated the department's Shop with a Cop effort for the past two years. He said organizing the program can be challenging, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.
"The application process and having to make the hard choices on who's more needy, that's the hard part," he said. "Seeing the kids here today is the fun part."
Members of the Clay County Sheriff's Department also turned up to offer their support. Sheriff Mike Heaton escorted several families through the store, filling and refilling a shopping cart with clothes, toys and other items.
Special Deputy Matt Weber contributed both time and money to the effort. The proprietor of Weber Tires in Brazil, he made a monetary donation to Shop-with-a-Cop through his business in addition to volunteering at the event.
Seven police officers donated their free time to participate in program this year, Loudermilk said.
"The nice thing is there's no overhead for the police department, so whatever we get can go right back into it for the kids."