Each year, officers from departments all over the county gather to help children in need shop for presents. With funds raised by the organization and additional financial help from Walmart employees, each child is given $100 to purchase something for the holidays.
A police officer helps the child with their selection and makes sure the child spends money of presents and not for household items or goods. Children who might otherwise have had a dismal Christmas through no fault of their own are given the chance to pick something or things special.
Ask any officer, or Walmart employees like Dawn Carrozo, who helped organize the store's participation, and they'll tell you its hard not to get emotional. Each year she and fellow employees feed the officers before the event begins and assist throughout the event.
With tears in her eyes, Carrozo told the officers how much the event means to the children. And for some of the children, it's what they can do for others. More than one child unselfishly wanted to use the money to buy things for siblings or parents.
Lawmen and women of every rank from Groveland, Mascotte, Fruitland Park, Howey-in-the-Hills, Leesburg, Clermont, Astatula and the Lake County Sheriff's Department gathered for the event.
Groveland's Scott Penvose pointed to officers at the checkouts and said, "Some of the kids have gone over the amount and these officers have reached into their pockets to make up the difference.."
"No child is going to have to return a toy because of a couple of dollars," he insisted.
One of the side benefits of the program is that it lets youngsters interact with the police in a positive way. Parents will frequently tell their children they will be turned over to the police if they are bad.
Children see the police as the bad guys, said one Lake County deputy, when the reverse should be true. Law enforcement wants children to know they should go to the police if they have a problem. The Shop With A Cop program gives them the confidence to do that.
Over 30 officers and over 150 children participated in the program this year.