Christmas came early for some Columbia County families Saturday.
Sponsored by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, 57 underprivileged children were each given $200 to spend as part of the annual Day With a Deputy at the Evans Walmart. It began with an 8 a.m. breakfast, included posing for a picture with Santa Claus and then shopping.
“School counselors in Columbia County did a selection process” to recommend children for the program, explained Columbia County Sheriff’s Office community services division Capt. Clay Smith.
It was Smith’s 10th year with the event, previously known as Shop With a Cop.
“It’s just the smile on their faces, because some of these kids are not going to have a Christmas,” said Smith. “For us to be able to provide that and see the smile on their faces is all I need.”
More than 50 volunteers from all branches of the sheriff’s office donated their Saturday to take children and their families through the store. After spending $100 on necessities such as clothes and shoes, it was time for toys.
Charlie Fuentes, 12, from Harlem, was paired with Deputy William McCall and minced no words while in the toy section picking out Xploderz and Nerf Vortex Vigilon guns.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” Charlie said. “It’s even better than last year,” explaining that he had $15 left over in 2011.
Tim Odom and his wife, Tonya, were with their two sons, Timothy, 7, and Trenton, 5. They were appreciative of what was being provided.
“It means a lot to the kids to be able to get toys they can buy themselves and get what they want,” said Odom. “It helps out a lot of people who need it with how the economy is.”
Ethan Hair, 6, of Martinez was happy just waiting for the event to start and his enthusiasm never waned.
Asked about the day, Ethan’s aunt Debra Collins was at a loss for words.
“This whole thing is a new experience for him, he’s always had nothing,” said Collins, who recently started taking care of Ethan. “His whole family is incarcerated and his grandfather, who was raising him, passed away last month. This is awesome for him.”
It was special for those accompanying the families as well.
“It makes you feel good,” said sheriff’s office auxiliary member Evelyn Bobo, who helped Deputy Teresa Lee shop for 6-year-old Judah McNeil. “You don’t mind getting up early in the morning to see smiles on their little faces.”
For some of the girls, buying shoes and clothes made the day.
“This is awesome,” said 8-year-old Madison Burdette. “I got boots and twinkle-toe slippers. They’re cool, they light up.”
Things worked out great for 11-year-old Calista Everett of Grovetown as well.
“It was cool,” said Everett with a big smile as she sat on her new bicycle at the checkout counter, accompanied by Deputy Andrea Hall. “I wanted a girl police. The best part was buying clothes.”
The money, $11,400 in all, was donated to the sheriff’s office by businesses, organizations and private individuals throughout the year. To make a donation for 2013, write a check to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office with the notation “Day With a Deputy.”