To serve and protect is the primary responsibilities of any law enforcement officer. However, for some local cops that credo has expanded to include playing Santa Claus.
The annual Shop with a Cop program pairs uniformed officers and other emergency personnel with needy children for a shopping spree. This year's event takes place at 9 a.m. Dec. 20 Wal-Mart in Evans.
"Each child is given a gift card with a predetermined amount on it," said Nash Garrett, a criminal investigator with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and organizer of the local Shop with a Cop program. "Then an officer will escort each child through the store where they will buy clothes, toiletries or presents for family members."
Sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, Georgia's Shop with a Cop program generated $66,590 in donations to take 785 children shopping in 2001. Although it began in Atlanta, the event has proven so successful that it is a yearly event during the holiday season in nearly every state.
How to Help
Uniformed emergency personnel who would like to shop with a child, or those wishing to lend their tax-deductible sponsorship support, should call Nash Garrett, a criminal investigator with the Columbia County Sheriffss Office and organizer of the local Shop with a Cop program, at 541-3943 or 855-9888.
In a testament to the program's popularity, when it seemed that Garrett might have to forego this year's Shop with a Cop because of a drop in the local FOP ranks, the Martinez Optimist's Club donated $500 to keep it alive.
"I participated as an escort three years ago and I had so much fun I talked with the (FOP) state lodge president about getting more involved," Garrett said. "Basically, he gave me the reins and the first year I headed it up we had about 15 kids and spent about $250 a piece on them. That turned out to be a little excessive, so the next year we had about 30 kids and spent $150 a piece on them."
For this Christmas season, Garrett is hoping to recruit about 15 needy children suggested to him by the Columbia County Department of Family and Children Services and from sheriff's deputies who have encountered needy children in the course of their job.
"If we have more money in the budget, then we'll add more kids," Garret said. "We're getting donations from local business owners and from larger companies, but we're hoping to get more donations and more volunteers to want to help out with this."
Uniformed emergency personnel that would like to shop with a child, or those wishing to lend their tax-deductible sponsorship support, should call Garrett at 541-3943 or 855-9888.
"Persons that donate, I encourage them to come out and actually shop with the deputy and the child so they can see first hand where their donation is going," Garrett said. "I've got five repeat donators that will be attending because they attended last year and were extremely pleased with the program. They called me to not just donate. They wanted to help shop as well."
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