WARREN - Santa's elves sometime carry shoulder radios, badges and sidearms.
Instead of sleighs powered by eight tiny reindeer, sometimes they arrive in cars with flashing lights.
No matter the wear and mode of travel, these Santa's helpers in blue still had big smiles and lots of laughs as they walked around the Big K store on Parkman Road in Warren on Saturday assisting children from throughout the city pick up gifts for family and for themselves.
More than 32 families participated in the second annual Shop With a Cop program sponsored by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34 and supported by Kmart, The Salvation Army, North West Neighborhood Association, the FOP Association and Sorrento's restaurant.
Linda Ross and her daughter, Carlecia, walked around the store picking up gifts.
"I begged my boss to give me the day off so we could participate in this," Ross said. "I'm a new employee at my job, so thank God they understood. This is so wonderful for the police to do something like this for children.
: Dinasti Powell hugs a gift she was able to purchase Saturday with the help of Warren police Officer Brian Martinek during the second annual Shop With a Cop program sponsored by FOP Lodge 34 in Warren.
Photo by Raymond L. Smith
"They are making them feel special," she said.
Kassie Smith and her daughter, Dinasti Powell, recently moved to Warren from Chicago. Smith described the program as a perfect demonstration of the spirit of Christmas.
"It is a real nice way for children to get to know police officers," Smith said. "It is nice that people are being nice to their neighbors."
"This is fun," Dinasti added with a smile.
Crystal Waggoner heard about the program and called Warren police Sgt. Joe O'Grady to see if her family with four children could participate.
"Often these programs are for very young children, which is good, but what about families with older children?" she said. "They also have needs. He understood and invited us to participate."
Camilla Butler says the program has given a lot of children the opportunity to get things they would not if they only were depending on their parents' incomes.
"It also is giving them a chance to connect with police officers in situations other than emergency situations in which they are judging the officers under difficult circumstances.
Last year, Jakita Walker saw police officers and families shopping and immediately began trying to find out how she could participate.
"It is a good idea," Walker said. "Kids will not be so afraid of police."
Building connections with residents is part of the reason the program was adopted, O'Grady said.
"These youngsters and their parents hopefully will remember the police officers and community volunteers who helped them shop for Christmas presents," he said.
"The presents are great, but it is the possible establishment of bonds between our officers and residents that will be most lasting and important," O'Grady said.
He says the response to the program has been great and hopes the FOP and younger officers in the police department continue it in future years.
"This is a completely volunteer program," O'Grady said. "We raise money throughout the year to make it possible. We were fortunate in being able to raise more than $7,000 from the community this year."
Each child shopping with their Santa's elves was able to get up to $75 worth of gifts for themselves and for others in their lives. The Salvation Army screened the families to determine which would be allowed to participate in the program.
"This is a big help for families during this time of year," Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said. "There are so many families in which one or more parents have lost their jobs and Christmas is very hard on them."