On the Saturday before Christmas, bright and early, 17 kids gathered at the entrance to Walmart to be paired up with a police officer who would take them shopping for their heart's desire.
Ashland police Sgt. Warren Hensman started the Shop with a Cop program when he came to the department three years ago from Las Vegas Metro Police.
"This year we raised the most money so far and were able to help more kids than in years past," Hensman says.
Walmart donated $500 and officers from the Ashland Police Department chipped in $605, providing each kid with $65 to spend on themselves for the holidays. Hensman reached out to St. Vincent de Paul to find kids who could use some help during the holidays.
"It's hugely important to give back to the community," he says.
Officers greeted customers at the entrance to the store as they waited with empty baskets for the kids they would be paired with. One of the customers even approached Hensman to see whether she could contribute.
Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness pushed a cart with a bright pink electric toy guitar inside while his pint-sized partner hopped and skipped next to him, obviously excited about her new toy.
"It's just fun," Holderness says. "At the agency I was at in California, we did it for 20 years, and I missed it."
Police handed out gold and silver police badge stickers to the kids, who proudly stuck them to their chests.
"It's an opportunity to make a good impression on these kids at a young age, while helping someone in need," Hensman says.
"Their interaction with law enforcement can be negative, so it's nice to interact in a friendly atmosphere."
About 15 officers were on hand to assist, including two nonsworn members of the department.
"Everyone in the department was extremely receptive to this idea," Hensman says. "It's a team effort."
Officer Aaron Hull of the Phoenix Police Department, which works closely with the Ashland and Talent departments, asked to be a part of the Shop with a Cop event.
"Just to be able to give families something they thought they couldn't have is rewarding," Hensman says.
Pamela Forney brought her four grandchildren. The kids were excited even the night before, discussing their strategy of where to go first in the store, she says.
"They didn't complain about getting up at 6 a.m. this morning, unlike on school days," Forney says. "As soon as they hit the car, their stuff is going to get unwrapped."
Three of Forney's grandchildren had returned with their items and were waiting for the last child to figure out how to spend her last $5. The kids showed each other the things they had picked out: makeup, an Angry Birds T-shirt, DVDs.
"They are girls, they get into that stuff," Forney says.
Reach Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.