EAST MARLBOROUGH >> For kids from the Chester County Family Academy, the annual “Shopping with the Sheriff” is something they look forward to for weeks or, for many, months.
On Saturday, more than 100 students in grades kindergarten through second grade joined Chester County Sheriff Bunny Welsh and her deputies, plus a host of volunteers, in buying Christmas gifts for their family members at the Kennett Square Walmart. What made the event even more joyful was that through fund raising events, the sheriff’s department — with the boost from Walmart grants — was able to pick up the tabs for $100 worth of gifts chosen by each of the kids.
This was especially satisfying to Welsh, because the students at this K-2 school founded in West Chester by philanthropist Dick Sanford are largely from families that experience some financial or cultural need.
The kids were brought over to the event in two school buses and accompanied by a parade of sheriff’s deputies, who drove over with lights flashing and sirens blaring into the Walmart parking lot.
As the children disembarked, the 36 deputies and many volunteers in yellow shirts greeted them with a high five tunnel that extended almost to the rear of the store.
The whole process appeared well organized.
The children went back to the Walmart break room and were matched with their individual deputies. While some waited their turns as the first wave of kids shopped, they watched videos and did crafts. But soon all had experienced the thrill of picking out gifts for their family members with the help of a deputy.
Welsh said the kids buy gifts only for their friends and families, but there is another event in which benefactors enable them to buy things for themselves.
After spending some buying time with her particular child — called “Child Number 1 because he was the first one out — Welsh said, “He didn’t walk. He ran. William bounced the whole time.”
She added that many of the children had experienced the shopping trip before, and their excitement had built as the day came closer.
“Some of them come to school on the first day with the shopping on their minds,” she said.
“It’s just very fulfilling. It’s satisfying. They plan in advance,” she added.
The kids were pushed around in shopping carts by their shopping mentors from one department to the other in search of the gifts on their lists. Some ordinary shoppers, unaware of what was going on, appeared startled when they saw an army of uniformed law enforcement officers filling the store and picking out gifts.
Chief Deputy Jason Suydam was shopping with Brizza. This was not his first experience Shopping with the Sheriff.
“It’s great. I’ve done this for years. Just seeing the smiles on their faces is precious,” he said.
The funds for the event, now in its fourth year, came from various organizations solicited by Welsh and others. In addition, Walmart matched each child’s $50 with another $50. Welsh said the $100 is the designated grant for each child, but often the officers help if the purchases go over, and they often just by something special for the child.
In addition to the deputies, there were also volunteer helpers from the community and some green-clad elves who work at the Chester County Court House.
After the shopping trip, the children were taken back for a gift wrapping event.