Dozens of Hinesville Police Department officers were on duty Saturday morning in the aisles of Walmart.
They weren’t there keeping the crowds of Christmas shoppers in check. Rather, they were doing some Christmas shopping themselves — but not for themselves.
The HPD, backed by a host of public and private donors, staged its annual Shop With a Cop.
Last year, HPD officers wanted to do something bigger than what they normally do, said Bryan Wolfe, HPD community resource officer. A pooling of resources allowed them to buy Christmas gifts for 47 kids from 19 families.
“And we had an overwhelming amount of support from the community,” Wolfe said.
This year, he said, the support was even greater, and the officers nearly tripled their efforts in providing Christmas, shepherding 142 kids, from nearly 45 families, through the store to pick out gifts.
“It’s Christmas. I’m a father of three,” Wolfe said. “I couldn’t imagine not being able to do something for my kids, so we wanted to make sure every kid has something this Christmas.”
Social workers and counselors in the Liberty County School System identify the children and families they believe will benefit the most from the program.
“Something like this is important because of the economy,” school social worker Crystal Bell said. “People are going through a struggle and they don’t meet some of the ends. It eliminates some of the barriers that the families go through.”
Seeing the kids and their families go through the section of the store marked off for them — along with meeting Santa and some elves, and getting doughnuts and hot chocolate — Bell said the scene evoked “happiness and joy.”
“We’re glad the City of Hinesville is able to do this and we are glad to be able to partner with them to see this moment,” she said.
The HPD began posting on social media the donations from local groups and businesses in support of the effort, and that led to more people wanting to bolster its efforts, according to Wolfe. Nearly half of the HPD’s force, about 40 officers, turned out Saturday morning to lend a hand with the event.
“We have officers who worked last night that are working today,” Wolfe said, “and officers who have ponied up their own money for this program, without any recognition. Thousands of dollars have come from our own officers, and we greatly appreciate it.”
The payoff, though, is seeing the children pick out their gifts.
“These kids come from all kinds of backgrounds, and we just try to put a smile on their face,” Wolfe said.