Reanna Engels, 14, happily displays a pair of shoes to show her mother, unpictured, during her $100 shopping spree at Wal-Mart as part of the Shop with a Cop program yesterday.
Santa Claus wore khaki pants, a dark shirt, and a badge.
He also wore a pair of jeans, a sweater, and a blue Wal-Mart vest. And, yes, he had on his traditional red suit.
Vicky Engels of Sylvania Township said ol' St. Nick was at the Wal-Mart on Central Avenue yesterday in all shapes, sizes, and manner of dress.
Ms. Engels had two children and three grandchildren participating in the Shop with a Cop program, in which 40 underprivileged children between the ages of 5 and 14 went on a shopping spree through Wal-Mart with members of the Sylvania Township Police Department.
Each child was escorted by an officer and given $100 to spend. Wal-Mart volunteers were there to help with registration and checkout, and one donned a Santa suit.
The children had to spend at least $50 on "necessary" items - hats, coats, gloves, etc. The rest could go toward other things on their Christmas lists.
Kalynn Engels, 12, has one foot in a new pair of boots she would like to purchase at the Central Avenue Wal-Mart as Sylvania Township Police Sgt J.J. Barko checks the tally of gifts to see if she can get them within her $100 limit in the Shop with a Cop.
"There are no words to describe this," Ms. Engels said. "If anyone doesn't believe in Santa, they need to come take a look around and see all the people helping others.
"Things have been tough [financially] this year, but this made it a little easier."
Karen Troutman, the community involvement coordinator at the Sylvania Township Wal-Mart, said Shop with a Cop is a national program in which any Wal-Mart store can participate.
At least two other Shop with a Cop programs took place in northwest Ohio over the weekend. According to Rossford police, over 150 children shopped with officers from all Wood County law enforcement agencies at the Wal-Mart in Bowling Green on Saturday.
A Wal-Mart employee said 17 children attended the event held at the Fremont store on Saturday. The children there were accompanied by law enforcement officers from various Sandusky County agencies.
Yesterday's program was the first held at the Sylvania Township Wal-Mart.
Ms. Troutman said over $4,500 for the shopping spree was raised from the Wal-Mart Foundation, employees at the Sylvania Township store, and the Sylvania Township police.
Officer John Munch, who was in charge of the event on the police department's end, said as many as 14 officers, most of them off-duty, helped the children shop.
Each of the officers carried calculators and monitored each child's shopping list, making sure the items in the cart added up to $100.
And if a child went over his or her allotted amount, the difference was covered by loose change from a donations jar.
"I'd rather them go a little over than a little under," Officer Munch said. "We want them to have fun and get the most out of this experience."
Shopping carts were filled with winter coats, insulated boots, and wool sweaters. There also were a number of action figures, board games, and remote-controlled cars.
Breanna Aliemeious, 9, had some of those things in her cart, but she also had a gift for her mother. It wouldn't be fair to disclose what the gift was, but Breanna was looking forward to being able to give her mom such a nice present.
"She deserves it," Breanna said. "I hadn't gotten her anything yet, and I like to get her stuff. She puts a roof over my head and she gives me clothes."
Officer Sarah Toth said whether the children were buying for themselves or a loved one, the looks on their faces made the whole event worthwhile.
"It makes you feel really good to be able to participate in something like this," Officer Toth said. "Just to be able to give back to a community that gives so much to us is really special.
"We really hope we can give these children a better Christmas."
Contact Joe Vardon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-410-5055.
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