With cooking utensils for her mother and a makeup bag for her sister already in her shopping cart, Alexia Hollins, 7, danced and sang in the aisles as she excitedly contemplated a wristwatch for her father.
“To me, Christmas is for giving presents that are full of love,” Hollins said. “I gotta get something for my dad that will make him happy.”
Thanks to the annual Shop with a Cop program, 25 Forest Park children received $100 to spend at Wal-Mart on holiday gifts this past weekend. The children, ranging from 7 to 10-years-old, were chosen by the Fraternity Order of the Forest Park Police and the Forest Park Police Department. Police officers and volunteers walked with the children and helped them choose gifts as they strolled the store.
The program aims to provide gifts for children from low-income households. The kids were also treated to breakfast at the nearby Old Country Buffet.
“It probably takes a total of three weeks to get this event together,” David Preiwisch, the event’s director, said. “But, just seeing the kids’ faces is the biggest thrill in the world. I do most of the coordinating for fun, and the thrill of the day is worth every penny of it.”
Several of the young shoppers exhibited the holiday spirit and the selflessness associated with the season. Preiwisch said that despite the temptations of scooping up toys for themselves, kids each year often opt to spend their money on family members.
“A lot of times the kids buy gifts or food for not only themselves, but for their families,” Preiwisch said. “The kids get joy from buying gifts for their families. You see stuff like that, and it truly brings tears to your eyes.”
The children, like Hollins, are able to shop for holiday gifts thanks to contributions from more than 20 individuals and businesses, Preiwisch said. The donations are converted into Wal-Mart gift certificates that typically cover the cost of $100 dollars worth of items.
“We couldn’t think of a better way to show our support for the village’s residents,” Tammy Williams, an assistant manager at Wal-Mart, said. “This event is a clear indication that this community cares about making certain the kids have a wonderful holiday.”
The smiling faces of the 25 children selected for this year’s program made it clear that they enjoyed themselves, and Christmas will be a little bit merrier.
One shopper, 8-year-old Leonard James, quickly finished his shopping within 10 minutes. With a pair of massaging slippers for his grandmother and a handwriting textbook for himself, James was ready for the next order of business and asked officer Scott Frey where they should go next.
“This is your day, Leonard,” Frey said. “I’m just following you.”