Children, police officers and parents spread across Walmart Friday to find Christmas presents.
As part of Kilgore’s Operation Blue Santa, 20 children – and their parents – were paired up with shopping buddies from the Kilgore Police Department and other visiting agencies, including the Tyler Police Department.
“It’s great. It’s bigger this year, and it’s a lot better,” KPD Det. Stephen Goodson said. “The kids are absolutely wonderful.”
In addition to getting to shop with a police officer, a blue-clad Santa Claus – a.k.a. KPD Officer Jason Romine – was situated in a photo booth set up near the Walmart Home and Garden Center ready to take pictures with visiting children and to hear their Christmas wishes.
“They’re kids. It’s fun because you’re in the law enforcement capacity, but you’re not,” KPD School Resource Officer DeeAnn Brown said. “This just kind of gives them a different perspective of what we’re like, that we’re not all mean and gruff.”
Paired with Maelynn and Adalynn Baty, Brown and KPD Officer Brady Middlebrooks searched with the two girls and their mom, Emily Robertson, for some gifts to put under the Christmas tree.
The experience gives both children and adults a different perspective on police officers and others who wear a badge.
“Well think about, all the parents in the store say, ‘If you don’t act right, he’s going to arrest you.’ Really? Now, all of a sudden, you start off with a child that’s scared of us,” Middlebrooks said. “. It’s like anything else, how often do they get a chance to see us do something good for them? They usually just see the negative side… That’s the reasons we try to do so may positives whenever we can.”
Kilgore Police Department also collected toys for the Kilgore Lions Club’s annual Christmas project.
“It’s definitely a different experience,” Robertson said about shopping with the officers. “It kind of teaches the kids that just because you wear a badge, it’s not a negative thing because the cops are good too. Yeah, you can come in contact with them when you’re in a bad situation, but you can also look for them to do things like this and help the community. It’s definitely cool. It was a really awesome experience.”
Noting his own childhood, Goodson said, “I want to make sure that there’s not any kid that doesn’t wake up on Christmas that doesn’t have something, something. We have pretty much everything we need; we have jobs, we have houses. These people, they don’t… That’s why we try to reach out and help as many as we can. Next year the goal will be 35 to 40.”
Each child or family selected based on information, suggestions and recommendations from community members, including teachers, KPD officers and local pastors. Ultimately, Goodson said, his goal is for the Kilgore program to grow to the size of Tyler’s and help 40 or 50 children, involving officers and elected officials from Gregg and Rusk Counties.