LAURINBURG — Retired Sycamore Lane teacher Cathy Chavis was nearly brought to tears in the Walmart check-out line watching children receive Christmas gifts through the Laurinburg Police Department’s third annual Shop with a Cop program.
Chavis, now a part-time teacher at Scotland Christian Academy, hugged Police Chief Darwin “Duke” Williams and his officers thanking them for making Christmas possible for the children.
“It really touched by heart and almost brought me to tears in the check-out line,” she said. “To see the smiles on those children’s faces, it’s just wonderful.”
Chavis wasn’t the only patron touched by the generosity of the police department, an elderly woman wiped tears away as she and her husband checked out because she was so moved.
On Friday, 35 children and their families met in the Walmart parking lot and were given a $200 spending limit to purchase whatever they wanted for Christmas, as long as it was within budget.
The department raises funds for the program by hosting a two-day youth girls’ softball tournament. They bill the tournament as a kids helping kids event. Teams from Fayetteville, Hoke County, Florence and Dillon, South Carolina participated, according to Williams.
The Tuesday Cruisers car club also donated $500 to the program this year.
Once the families received their vouchers, the children flooded the toy aisles and with the assistance of the officers and Walmart employees were able to choose exactly what they wanted for Christmas. Patrolman Jeremy Rodriguez, who joined the force this past year, helped a family shop for their infant daughter.
“It means the world to these kids and I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “This is the spirit of Christmas right here.”
The children went up and down the aisles picking out toys not only for themselves but also for their siblings. The only thing one little boy wanted was a Christmas tree, but settled for lights because he knew there wouldn’t be enough money left over for his siblings to get any gifts if he got his tree.
After hearing about the selfishness of the little boy, Walmart stepped in and donated a six and a half foot tall pre-lit Christmas tree to the boy and his family.
Another young boy walked up to each of the officers, shook their hands and said “thank you,” after he checked out.
Lt. Kris Singletary really got into the holiday spirit and dressed in a blue Santa suit, complete with his badge and gun. Lt. Singletary posed for photos with the children — and their parents — and helped them pick out exactly what they wanted for Christmas.
The children’s carts quickly filled up with Nerf guns, Paw Patrol, Moana, Barbies, video games and clothes — anything and everything on their must-have list.
Once all of the purchases were paid for the families headed over to Smithfield Chicken ‘M Bar-B-Que for lunch, courtesy of the police department.
Williams said the Shop with a Cop program at its core is what Christmas is, was and should always be about — giving back.
“Life is about helping folks, you want to be able to reach as many as possible,” he said. “It’s more than just buying toys, you’re showing kids how to give. We hope that by showing them this that when they get older, they will have that giving spirit.”
As much as the program is about bringing joy to children in the community, Williams said it’s also about supporting their parents, who often times are working incredibly hard to provide a better life for their children but don’t have the extra money to buy Christmas gifts.
“We pat those parents on the back and tell them to keep going and better days are ahead,” he said. “It’s more than just the kids, you’re touching the parents too and giving them the encouragement they need to continue to move forward.”
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.