By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Omar was shopping and talking last week in the Effingham Wal-Mart.
The energetic six-year-old was popping back and forth between the clothing displays as he was looking for Christmas gifts for his siblings. In the excitement, Omar switched from English to Spanish now and then.
“Yeah, he’s bilingual,” said Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Feldkamp with a grin as he held the shopping cart. Feldhake was one of several Sheriff’s officers and other volunteers helping a group of children during the annual Shop With A Deputy session last Thursday.
There were 10 children at Wal-Mart that day, just a fraction of the children chosen for this year’s effort to provide a happy Christmas for local families. This year, Shop With A Deputy has the support to take 90 children through the aisles.
“When we started this back in in 1999, we just shopped with 10 kids from the different school districts in the county,” Feldkamp said.
The rules are simple for the individual shopping sprees. All gifts must be age appropriate. Clothing must be purchased in addition to toys. Buying for siblings or parents is welcomed as long as the child does not buy past the monetary limit, which varies year to year.
That last rule provides a chance for the children to experience the joy of giving. Some take it very seriously.
“We’ve had some kids buy for their siblings and not themselves,” Feldkamp said.
Near the checkout counter, County Jail correctional officer Jennie Vail was smiling widely as Kaylee and Harlow were showing off their pickings from the toy aisle. They were especially excited about their Flipazoos, a large stuffed toy animal that can be flipped over from a dog to a polar bear or other creature combinations. They can make soft pillows for kids or come in handy to ward off boys trying to fiddle with gifts in a shopping cart. Eventually, Roland and Brayden decided to concentrate on their gifts.
“I love to see their faces light up when they get what they want,” said Vail.
The charity program gains names of children in need from local teachers or school counselors. Deputy Eric Higgs, who was shopping with Roland and Brayden, explained how the schools also help arrange the shopping trips and with the transport of the gifts afterward.
“The schools arrange for the kids coming to Wal-Mart and then the items are taken back to school. After that, they are taken to the homes,” Higgs said.
Jeff Suckow, county school resource officer, was working with a future doctor, Kendyl. Well, at least, she had purchased a doctor’s playset along with boots and some Flipazoos. With her apparent love for animals she might become an animal doctor.
Suckow demonstrated how the adult volunteers help the children make their decisions. The idea is to advise, not direct. The monetary limit helps with some tough decisions. But right decisions show the children that Christmas is a time for responsibility, not just spending money frivolously.
At the end of the shopping, there is a great deal of satisfaction, not only for the children, but for the adults. They realize some of the children would get only a single gift or none at all due to the hardships faced by their family household. So a child can make the holiday merrier for their whole family.
“I think it’s a great program because the kids get to buy what they want. There is only one chosen per family so this really helps. And when you’re finished it gets you in the Christmas spirit,” said Cris Bierman, of the Dieterich Community Unit 30 School District.