BELLEVILLE — Dozens of children spent Saturday morning with city police officers at Walmart to choose early Christmas presents.
The "Shop with a Cop" event helped 35 children stock up on some necessities, like socks and underwear, and buy them some treats, like toys and other luxuries. The students, who were selected by school counselors based on the needs of their families, were able to pick out gifts they may not have otherwise received.
"I just think this is what Christmas is all about," said Patrolwoman Kristen Hoepfinger.
She helped 8-year-old Taylor Ornelas pick out some Barbie toys, a hot pink sweatshirt and more.
Taylor was overcome with joy when she found out that she would get to shop with a cop: "My mom told me and I got really excited and started jumping up and down on the bed!"
The energetic Abraham Lincoln Elementary School student said she looks forward to watching Christmas movies, having days off from school and spending time with her family.
Officer Geoffrey Wells, who organizes the event every year, said they were able to make a happier holiday for 10 more elementary and middle school-aged children than in years past, thanks to a grant from Walmart.
Wells helped 12-year-old Patrick Plater pick out Xbox games, socks and more.
As Patrick quietly looked at shirts, Wells said, "We're shopping for clothes and Christmas toys, just some things that Patrick needs and wants."
Will Payne, an 11-year-old Henry Raab Elementary School student, knew exactly what he was looking for: "I'm going to get undershirts, an MP3 player, my mom a watch, my stepdad a wallet, and my sister a 12-inch bicycle. The rest my mom said I could spend on myself."
When Will accidentally rammed his cart into a display, Sgt. Rob Thomason laid down the law: "I said no wrecking," he said with a smile. "Now, I'm going to have a write a report."
Kayla Nadeu, 10, a fourth-grade student at Douglas Elementary School, said she was shocked when her aunt told her about the shopping trip.
She picked out a colorful bed spread decorated with owls and a matching pink owl-shaped pillow.
While trying on a pink hoodie, she said, "It's OK if it doesn't fit."
But Detective Beth Ferry said they would find one that was just her size. They settled on a black, zip up hoodie with silver Hello Kitty decorations. "I like the silver on it," Kayla said.
Ferry has helped other children shop with a cop in years past. "It's just a nice thing to do for the community and the kids just love it ... It's fun, just fun."
Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at email@example.com or 239-2460.