VIENNA - Over 100 children received an early start on Christmas as they went shopping with their own personal Santas - dressed in law enforcement uniforms - during the annual Shop With A Cop program in Vienna and Parkersburg.
The Wood County program is sponsored by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 79 with help from the Wal-Mart stores in Vienna and south Parkersburg.
FOP Lodge 79 president Chris Morehead said a total of 103 children were participating in this year's program, with about half shopping with local officers Sunday afternoon in Vienna and the other half visiting the south Parkersburg Wal-Mart on Sunday evening.
Photo by Wayne Towner
James Lynch, 7, right, of Waverly, looks at toys with Parkersburg Police Officer C.A. Miller during the annual Shop With A Cop program on Sunday at the Vienna Wal-Mart.
"We're just very happy to be able to be able to support and help with this project, Tracy Carpenter, store manager at the Vienna Wal-Mart, said Sunday.
"I think it's fantastic for the community and what the officers are doing, we're just glad to be a part of it," she said.
Morehead said the FOP collects donations each year for the Shop With A Cop program, with much support coming from Wal-Mart, along with individuals, organizations and businesses making donations. The program allows at-need children to receive a $100 gift card which they used Sunday to go shopping with the help of a local officer.
"I think it's a good opportunity for help for the parents," said Meghann Rickard, of Parkersburg, who was participating in Sunday's program with her 5-year-old son, Trevor McCoy.
Rickard said she wasn't familiar with the program until this year and was glad to see it taking place.
"I think it's wonderful. I think it's good interaction for the kids, as well," she said.
All of the agencies in Wood County had uniformed officers present Sunday to help the children, including the Vienna and Parkersburg police departments, the Wood County Sheriff's Office, conservation officers with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, troopers with the West Virginia State Police, enforcement officers with the Public Service Commission and corrections officers from the St. Marys Correctional Center in Pleasants County, among others, Morehead said
Morehead said the FOP works each year with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which coordinates the names of the participating children.
During Sunday's program, the officers kept track of the children's gift cards and made sure the child stayed within their budget. Some children opted for several smaller items while others chosen fewer but more expensive items to buy with their cards, including at least one bicycle.
"We always try to make sure the kids get what they are wanting for Christmas, but to be honest most of the kids end up spending money on their siblings and their family. It seems like they always put their family first and it kind of shows where their heart is this time of year," Morehead said.
John Casto, a natural resources police officer with the WVDNR, was among the officers shopping with children on Sunday, something he has done for several years.
"I think it's great," he said of Shop With A Cop. "I would donate my time, even if I wasn't a policeman."
Casto said every child is different, with some knowing exactly what they want and getting it immediately to others who spend the whole hour walking around and trying to figure out what they want. He likes how happy they get when they find what they want.