It began in 2004 when Walmart store manager Don Coleman approached LaFayette public safety director Dino Richardson about trying to help the less fortunate children that police officers were aware of. The project became a passionate service concept that many members of the LPD took to heart.
The concept helped ten kids in its first year, but has since grown to help brighten the holidays for 37 youngsters for 2011.
“We take them in our police cars and fire truck in a parade,” said Cpl. Billy Mullis, in his third year as the event coordinator. “We try to make it a little more personable by having the child shop with a police officer or firefighter.”
Children then attend a holiday party with snacks and photos with Santa.
“I’ve got two (daughters), so this gives me a chance to help out by shopping for a boy, which is something I am not used to,” said Mullis, having participated in varying roles at the event since 2004. “It’s one of the most rewarding programs I have ever worked with and I have worked with several different (charities).”
Parents aren’t allowed to influence the child’s decisions and are unable to return the items that their child has selected.
On occasion a thoughtful child has even sought out a toy for their sibling.
The kids get a set dollar amount ($150-$200) to spend on whatever they choose (except cell phones and gaming systems) as long as it is age appropriate.
Cadets from the LaFayette High School JROTC and members of the Junior Optimist club serve as helpers for the event.
Mullis coordinates with the three elementary schools in LaFayette (Naomi, Gilbert and North LaFayette) to develop a list of less fortunate students.
“The schools are one of our biggest (financial) contributors also,” Mullis said. Fundraisers involving teachers and classmates at the three schools average between $500 and $1,000 each year, according to Mullis.
He cross-references those names against those that have applied for the Walker County Sheriff’s Stocking Full of Love program, which could only be eligible for one of the two programs.
“This way the services are able to be spread out a bit more,” Mullis said.
Shoppers have even given donations on several occasions during the event after noticing the first responders assisting the youth during the season of giving.
“I’ve even had one lady write me a check for two hundred dollars to sponsor another child,” Mullis said.
The entire donation provides for the children’s toys and can be mailed to: Shop with a Cop/Fireman, 208 N. Main Street, LaFayette GA 30728; or make a deposit to the fund at The Bank of LaFayette.
Those children will arrive at the police station around 8 a.m. on Dec. 15, followed by the parade and holiday party and shopping spree.