Seventeen kids spent their Saturday morning making big decisions with big smiles.
For the seventh year in a row, Ashland police officers volunteered their time to walk children who otherwise wouldn't have much to open under the tree Christmas morning through the south Medford Wal-Mart store on a shopping spree as part of their "Shop with a Cop" program.
Overwhelmed with a store full of choices, 6-year-old Kalila Sayre needed help choosing a My Little Pony plush toy from police Cadet Tiffany Stamp. Hoping for Twilight Sparkle, Kalila considered Rarity among others.
"Which one's your favorite?" Stamp asked Kalila, coaxing her out of her indecision.
Kalila's mother, Elaine Sayre, expressed gratitude for program, saying her daughter and two sons, 11-year-old William and 14-year-old Jonah, will have plenty to open Christmas morning.
"They're so excited to just come here and shop," Sayre said. "They don't get to do that a whole lot."
Shopping with Officer Matt Caswell, 9-year-old Kala Kuehu picked a "smiling poop" emoji beanbag to outfit his room. At checkout, Kala beamed as he showed off a matching brown plastic coin bank.
"You gotta have poop in your room," Caswell joked.
Caswell said Kala and his older brother Kealli had approached their Christmas shopping cautiously and frugally. Kala only spent $70 of his $100 at the store.
"He was content with what he got," Caswell said, joking with Kala that he can spend his remainder in February buying his girlfriend a Valentine's Day present.
Saturday is normally Caswell's day off, but he said he likes meeting the kids each year.
Some officers at the store had finished a night shift before volunteering with the kids selected through St. Vincent de Paul and their parent or guardian, according to Ashland Deputy Chief Warren Hensman. The kids' smiles mean Hensman has little trouble finding volunteers.
"Everything's so negative in what we do," Hensman said.
In seven years, the program has impacted 116 kids, including 20 this year. Only 17 made it to the store — one girl was ill, a small disappointment for Hensman because he knew she wanted a bicycle and wanted to see the look on her face when she got one, while two others couldn't make it because their mother had just had a baby earlier in the week. Police dropped off their gift cards personally at the end of the other kids' spree.
Hensman said their budget of $2,000 donated from the Lithia Springs Rotary Club of Ashland is the highest they've ever had. Officers often supplement the $100 each child is given, according to Hensman, but the budget is nearly triple the $700 he cobbled together seven years ago.
"At the very beginning, it was, 'Who wants to pitch in some money?'" Hensman said.
While single mother Sarah Baker thanked Hensman for the program that allowed her sons to get the building video game "Minecraft," her son Ryan peppered Officer Brent Hegdahl with questions about his utility belt.
"What's a Taser?" Ryan asked. "Why do you have to Tase people?"
Despite Ryan's fussy mood, Baker was deeply moved by a surprise Starbucks gift card from a passerby. Coming from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she said she's not used to such community generosity.
"Where I'm from this never would happen," Baker said, grateful to call Ashland her home.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.