The puzzled expressions on the faces of shoppers at the Sebastian Walmart as they spied an overwhelming presence of law enforcement personnel quickly turned into grins when told they were in the midst of the annual Shop with a Cop Indian River event.
It’s one of the happiest days of the year for the children, as well as for participating members of the county’s law enforcement agencies, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Florida Highway Patrol and the Forestry Division.
Escorted by police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring, about 150 children, ages 6 to 14, were bused to the Walmart in shifts – one group from the IRC 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 extraordinaire.
The officers and their young charges were all smiles as they got off the buses and were paired up, before pushing shopping carts past a gauntlet of cheering Walmart employees. Even Santa was on hand to greet the young shoppers as they pursued gifts for themselves, family members, friends and even their pets.
“These are all my kids; when I win the lottery, I’m going to take care of all of them,” said IRCSO Deputy Teddy Floyd with a big smile.
The youngsters are identified by school resource officers, teachers and administrators as needing a helping hand during the holiday season. Walmart grants, fundraisers such as Christmas in July, and donations from individuals and civic groups provide funding for the gift cards.
“I have enjoyed seven years of cheerful joy; it just makes me so happy every year,” said ‘head elf’ Roberta Barker, a Sebastian Police Department school resource officer.
Barker, who had previously worked for and retired from the IRCSO, was assisted this year by Jera Payton of the IRC Sheriff’s Office, and said she will be handing the job over to other SPD and IRCSO personnel, adding, “It’s been heartwarming but it’s time to retire.”