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Published: Sunday, 12/23/2012

Youngsters, officer buddies team for Christmas shopping excursion

Toledo police Officer Tanya Toska poses for Kadence Fowler, 5, at the Meijer store on Alexis Road in Toledo. Fifty children were paired with officers for a breakfast and some Christmas shopping Friday. Toledo police Officer Tanya Toska poses for Kadence Fowler, 5, at the Meijer store on Alexis Road in Toledo. Fifty children were paired with officers for a breakfast and some Christmas shopping Friday.
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For at least a few hours Friday, the world seemed to revolve around a few dozen children and their new friends from the Toledo Police Department.

“This was the best day of my life,” said Caelenah Comment, 8, sitting in the back of the department’s armored SWAT vehicle.

“I feel famous today,” her brother Nick Comment, 11, said.

“I am famous today,” Caelenah quipped.

The Comments were two of 50 children chosen to participate in the 12 Kids of Christmas, an annual shopping trip with Toledo officers. The event is given by Feet on the Street, a nonprofit organization headed by Officer Joe Okos, Jr., and his friend Zach Stewart.

PHOTO GALLERY: 12 Kids of Christmas

The children are from all over the county, identified for the shopping excursion by case workers from Lucas County Children Services.

Each child is paired with an officer, who guides him or her through aisles, pushes the shopping cart, and keeps track of how much each toy costs.

The morning started early — with children arriving at the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association hall on Franklin Avenue about 8 a.m. There they were served breakfast, provided by McDonald’s.

They played with their buddy officer, ate, and talked.

Many of the children have seen police only during negative situations.

Days like Friday are a chance for children to see officers as “the good guys.”

In line to see Santa — who passed out a wrapped gift and a stuffed stocking to each child — Michael Coats, 7, pulled Lieutenant Ron Frederick’s hand over his shoulder, as to be wrapped in a one-armed hug.

“Santa is coming tonight, tonight,” sang Michael, adding that he intended to buy one of his sisters a dress and something for his brother.

Most children stayed close to their officers all morning — Ny'Rena Barber, 7, wrapped an arm around her escort, Frank Adley, as he guided her toward the guy in the red suit.

Each child was given $110 in Meijer gift cards — the $10 is to cover taxes (this year, Meijer on East Alexis Road donated $5,000) — and, in some cases, officers dip into their own pockets to buy the child they are paired with a little something extra.

Lauran Coats, 9, had reached her limit when her officer, Adam Eilerts, told her she could pick out another toy. His gift to her.

She reached over, grabbed an Orbeez RC Ladybug Scooper — a plastic ladybug game that picks up marbles — and jumped up and down.

“I'm never letting go of this,” she said, holding the box to her chest. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Lauran — who strategically edited her cart when something cost too much or she was wary of getting too close to her spending limit — also picked out presents for her brother Bubba, 11.

“I broke one of his toys and I forgot to get him a present for his birthday,” she said.

Officer Eilerts was more comfortable shopping with Lauran than you might imagine — he has three children, a 2-year-old son, and two daughters, ages 8 and 10.

“I’m in my comfort zone,” Officer Eilerts said while Lauran ran toward rainbow-striped socks.

“Oh yeah, colored socks. That’s in.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

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