Law enforcement officers bring holiday hope to kids
With their sirens blaring and lights flashing, dozens of police cars and fire fighting vehicles rolled into the local Walmart on Saturday, bringing with them a helping hand to children needing a gift of hope this Christmas.
Mountain Home's 13th Annual Shop-With-A-Cop program paired up 120 local area youngsters with representatives from city, county and state law enforcement agencies along with Air Force and Army National Guard representatives.
Each year, the program raises thousands of dollars to provide each of these children money to buy gifts for themselves and their families. In each case, these youngsters come from families facing extreme financial problems.
When the program started 13 years ago, local law enforcement officials helped 30 children in the local area. The need continues to grow each year, said Police Sgt. Rick Viola, one of the event's organizers. Without this type of program, those children faced the possibility of seeing nothing beneath their Christmas tree on Dec. 25.
"In 13 years, we've been about to serve about 1,000 kids and bring Christmas to them," Viola said. "We'd love to do more."
The day's festivities began at Mountain Home Junior High School where children received a hot meal courtesy of Mountain Home McDonald's restaurants as hundreds of volunteers waited for their turn to pair up with one of these youngsters. With the sounds of Christmas carols echoing across the school's common area, law officers and their temporary "foster children" took time to introduce themselves and to learn more about each other.
"This reminds you what the season is all about," added Mountain Home Police Chief John Walter.
Each year, it costs about $125 per child to make this program work, Viola said. Despite fund drives hosted by Pioneer Credit Union, Walmart, the local Sinclair service station and others, the program only raised enough money to serve 120 children this year, Viola said. It forced organizers to make the difficult decision to select these children out of the original 300 that signed up.
Following the day's shopping, chaperones helped the children pay for their purchases using $75 gift cards paid for from these donations. In many cases, law enforcement officers and military volunteers dug deep into their own pockets to ensure their children could afford their purchases. In some cases, the difference was just a couple of dollars. For others, it was a lot more.
Watching their children leave at the end of the morning was tough for people like Senior Airman Whitney Wolfe from the 389th Fighter Squadron. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she gave Mia a hug as the two said their good-byes.
"I can't put into words how I feel," Wolfe said as she choked back more tears. "There are so many people out there that have so many concerns. Seeing a child smile is one of the best things, the best feelings in the world."
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