Toy joy story as needy youngsters ‘Shop with a Cop’

Men and women representing all of the county’s law enforcement agencies, plus members of Florida Fish and Wildlife, Florida Highway Patrol and the Forestry Division, wore their hearts on their sleeves last Wednesday afternoon at the sixth annual Shop with a Cop Indian River event at Sebastian Walmart.

Escorted by police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring, about 160 children, ages 6 to 14 were bused to the Walmart in shifts – a first group coming from the Sheriff’s Office and a second from the Sebastian City Hall – where they were paired with an officer and given a $100 gift certificate for a shopping experience they will remember forever.

It was thrilling for the youngsters, who might otherwise not have a very merry Christmas, and equally special for the officers, who grinned ear-to-ear as they escorted their young charges past a welcoming committee of cheering Walmart employees and into the aisles.

“This is what Christmas is all about,” boomed a jubilant Dep. Teddy Floyd, shopping with Shonterria and Roiniah, ages 6 and 8. “I love Shop with a Cop – it’s fun!” said Roiniah.

“Ashley and I always say, it’s tough getting to this point,” said Dep. Roberta Barker of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, who organized the event with Sebastian Police Officer Ashley Penn and Walmart Manager Bill Bales. Funding was provided by Walmart grants, private donations and fundraisers such as Christmas in July.

“It’s hectic raising the funds, but the community has been outstanding this year,” said Barker. “And then when we finally do it and seeing the joy and happiness of the kids, that’s the icing on the cake, that it was all worth it.”

“Seeing the smiles and knowing they’ll have a Christmas this year,” said Penn in agreement. She explained that applications were distributed to schools and screened to avoid duplication, adding, “Because there is such a need out there we do not want them to also get things from Toys for Tots or the Angel Tree or other agencies. We need to make sure that other kids still have the opportunity to get gifts for Christmas.”

The need was heartbreakingly highlighted when IRSO volunteer Kathleen Hillcoat asked one little girl if she was going to be shopping for presents for her mom and dad. “She said that her father died three weeks ago; it’s just sad.”

Afterward, their shopping carts filled with gifts for their parents and siblings as well as themselves, children were treated to hamburgers and hot dogs supplied by Walmart and cooked up in the Sebastian Army’s Emergency Disaster Canteen.

Photos by: Gordon Radford
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