Walla Walla cops track down Christmas presents

The 11th annual Shop With a Cop will help 25 families have a merry Christmas.

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WALLA WALLA - Give a kid a sheet of paper and a crayon, and if it's December, chances are you'll get back a list instead of a drawing.

"Please! A big action figure. A Nerf gun. Play Dough. Bug Robot. Anything Iron Man. Thank you!" was how Seth Lynde's Christmas list read at the 11th annual Shop With a Cop held at Walmart early Saturday morning.

The 5-year-old had one of the neater lists for the morning, but he also had some help writing it from his mom.

"He wants anything Iron Man. It's got to have Iron Man," Anna Lynde said.

Then the mother noted that normally her family wouldn't need the help, but a couple of days before Thanksgiving, a fire gutted their Walla Walla home, which threatened to leave the Lyndes' tree a little on the bare side.

"It is a lifesaver this year," she said.

Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, when you consider that Seth's list was all about toys. But, then again, Seth's list was written by his mother. And she pointed out she and her husband really didn't need much, even after losing almost everything in the fire.

But there were other children who were old enough to write their own lists, and along with the privilege of doing your own list came the responsibility of knowing your family has needs.

But even before the needs could be met, volunteer coordinator and Sheriff's detective Cristal Harris pointed out all Shop With a Cop recipients must financially qualify for the program. She said in most cases families are nominated by social service organizations like the Children's Home Society.

Twenty-five families were accepted this year. And 23 of them took part in the Christmas gift giveaway program. The other three had teenage children who preferred to skip the Shop With a Cop experience, but they still got gifts, Harris said.

For the second consecutive year, the program raised roughly $10,000 for purchasing gifts. And not all the gifts were toys, which 911 dispatcher Jennifer Hartzell attested to, as she jingled around in a pair of red-felt curled, pointed-toe slippers with bells.

Hartzell was Santa's helper for the day. So she got to read the lists written in crayon, while the child got to sit next to Santa - played by the man who usually deals with his own naughty list, Capt. Jim Romine of the Walla Walla County Jail.

"Dresses, shoes, snow boots, hoodies, just the basics you would see for every day," Hartzell said, commenting on how toys aren't always at the top of the list for many children.

After telling Santa what they wanted for themselves, each child was led through the store by two officers and one shopping cart.

The officers worked as a team. One played detective and was charged with finding out exactly which gift the child wanted. Then the other officer would steal away with that item to have it secretly gift wrapped while the child continued shopping for his or her family.

After the shopping cart was full of gifts, it was pushed to one of five wrapping station tables. When all the gifts were wrapped and bows were tied, the two officers reunited the child, who was bearing many gifts and one huge smile, with his or her family.

The entire shopping process usually took about 30 minutes. But the memories will most likely last for years, especially for Walla Walla County Sheriff Mike Humphreys, who had his last chance to be the cop.

"Everything I have been doing for the last three months, it's been ‘Oh my gosh, this is my last time,'" Humphreys said. But he vowed to be back next year as a volunteer, perhaps wrapping gifts.

Along with the 20 officers who were teamed up with children, at least another 20 volunteers served as backup to keep things running smoothly. That included going over those lists of toys and in at least one case, a list of all clothes.

"That's what dad said, they just want clothes," Walla Walla County Sheriff's reserve deputy Toni Alvarado Jackson said.

It wasn't just clothes on the list in Jackson's hands, but also the bane of all children's Christmas gifts: underwear.

"Boxers and socks ... But we will put some toys in there," Jackson insisted.

On another list, Santa was going to have to come up with almost a miracle to fill Devon Pearson's Christmas list.

There was the laptop computer, the large screen TV and propane for the RV, which is where the family is now living.

"So I said, ‘What are you going to get for your mom?'" Humphreys said, describing his shopping experience with Devon. "And he said. ‘Oh, we need propane for the winter' ... Now that is very important for their family."

It was undetermined if Devon's laptop or large screen TV would make it under the tree this Christmas. But there was a tearful surprise in Melinda Person's eyes when she learned the cops would be buying her family propane for this winter.

"It has been hard," Melinda Pearson said, still a little misty from the news. "When the winter hit, we went through $150 in propane just like that, and all the pipes froze."

It was not the first time the Shop With a Cop program has been more about warmth than toys.

"A lot of years we end up having to buy heaters and blankets for people who don't have heat," Hartzell said.

Then she jingled off to do more Santa helping.

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