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Westminster police pitch in to fill wish lists for local youngsters

One little girl was looking for a purple dress for her mother.

A teenager looked at curtains for his little sister.

A little boy was looking for anything with Tinkerbell.

For the past eight years, the aisles of Walmart in Westminster have hosted more than 175 youngsters in their quest to find holiday presents for members of their families. On Dec. 10, their search is aided by members of Westminster's police department, as each child was accompanied by an officer during the annual Shop with A Cop event.

"Chief (Jeff) Spaulding feels very strongly that each child be with an officer," said Debbie Sabosk, an organizer of the event for the store. "He feels it's important for that bond between officer and child."

This year, 20 children arrived at Walmart for breakfast at McDonald's followed by shopping. After that, rides in police cars took everyone to the Westminster Senior Center, where a party, complete with a magician, Santa, presents and lunch took place.

"I think it is going to be a great time today," Spaulding told everyone as they finished breakfast. "We'll … have a great party."

Before that celebrating could begin, there was shopping to be done. Each child was allotted $150 to spend, thanks to donations from Walmart. Budgeting that money to find the perfect gift for everyone was the challenge.

A boy named Donovan, 6, (only first names are being used for this story) was shopping for his three brothers was the assistance of Capt. Nancy Yeager.

"It's going good," said Donovan. "I just have so many choices to make."

Yeager was also helping him hide one of Donovan's brother's Christmas presents in the shopping cart.

"Just in case he sees it and knows it is for him," Yeager said, smiling, as she covered the item.

Families for the event were selected through the city's Department of Housing, according to Sgt. Keith Benfer, community education supervisor for the police. The children range between ages 4 and 17, and can only take part in the Shop with a Cop program once.

"It's nice talking with cops and seeing what they actually do," said Ernie, 16, who was shopping with Officer Elias Cuadro. "Usually when you're out walking and see a cop, you get nervous."

Cuadro agreed that while the day helped provide presents for families, it also encouraged positive relationships.

"It's a good chance to interact," Cuadro said. "We can be one-on-one in a more relaxed atmosphere. My goal is to impart to him … to be confident that he can approach us [police]."

The families would receive more presents at the senior center, courtesy of Walmart's Angel Tree, which featured items the families needed that customers of Walmart purchased and donated to the cause.

Local businesses provided food and entertainment for the event, Spaulding said.

"There has been a tremendous amount of community support to make this happen," Spaulding said. "They'll really have a wonderful Christmas. It's a great event."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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