Officers with the Athens Police Department, Ohio University Police Department and Ohio State Highway Patrol showed dozens of Athens County children Sunday that Christmas can arrive in many forms.
About 20 police officers were at Wal-Mart, 929 E. State St., Sunday afternoon to take local underprivileged children on a shopping spree. Roughly 30 children were able to pick out their own Christmas presents.
“There are kids out there in need that may be under the radar of the social services agencies,” said APD Officer Dave Williams, who organized the event. “The police department likes to help with those families in need, not only this time of year but throughout the year.”
The event — dubbed “Shop with a Cop” — spent $2,500 on the children through Wal-Mart gift cards made available by a grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation. The program is in its second year.
If the kids went a little over budget, some officers used money from their own pockets to cover the difference, Williams said.
The program is aimed at elementary school-aged children, though older and younger siblings of participants were included as well.
Williams and other event organizers coordinated with local schools to choose the shoppers.
Participants aged five and younger were given $50 to spend, while the older children received $100.
At the start of the event, officers drew names of participants from an envelope, then set out for the shopping extravaganza.
“This just shows the great involvement that our police officers have in the community,” said Keith Adams, Wal-Mart manager. “They’re no different than you and I. They’re people too, and they have big hearts.”
Adams said he’s particularly passionate about the event this year, given recent tension between citizens and law enforcement in the U.S after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, who were both killed by police officers while unarmed.
The program is growing, Adams said, and he hopes the trend continues.
The event was dedicated to Steve Kazee, a former loss-prevention officer for Wal-Mart who died of cancer a year ago.
Pictures of Kazee adorned a fireplace set up near the program’s initial gathering space.
After shopping ended, children were allowed to ride in police cruisers to the nearest state highway patrol outpost.
“It shows everyone that the police are not always as they may be portrayed sometimes through media or other sources,” Williams said. “Police actually do want to help — help others and help our community.”