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'Shop with the Sheriff' a holiday hit with kids

DALLAS -- Katelynn Ross knew that her older brother, Daniel, wanted Hot Wheels cars for his collection for Christmas. He has many, though, "so I need to pick out just the right ones," she said.

Katelynn Ross, 9, and Polk County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Haynes pick out gifts for Ross' family at Walmart in Dallas Saturday during the annual "Shop with a Sheriff" event.

Photo by Pete Strong

Katelynn Ross, 9, and Polk County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Haynes pick out gifts for Ross' family at Walmart in Dallas Saturday during the annual "Shop with a Sheriff" event.

December 11, 2012

DALLAS -- Katelynn Ross knew that her older brother, Daniel, wanted Hot Wheels cars for his collection for Christmas. He has many, though, "so I need to pick out just the right ones," she said.

The 9-year-old from Falls City and Polk County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Haynes wander to the toy section inside Walmart, where Ross studies the display for a few moments. She settles on a small Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Demon.

"OK," Haynes said. "Another one down, three more to go."

The two are shopping for Ross' family. Haynes tries to make chitchat.

"So you're in the third grade?"

"Uh-huh."

"I liked third grade," Haynes said. "I had this teacher named Mrs. Sherman ... ."

If you happened to be at Walmart Saturday morning, it was a hard sight to miss -- uniformed patrol and jail deputies being led through the aisles by kids in search of the perfect present.

All were there to "Shop with the Sheriff," an annual sheriff's office program that gives needy kids a chance to buy holiday gifts for their family.

More than 40 children from Falls City and Grand Ronde, along with 20 or so deputies, participated. Walmart donated $35 for every shopper.

"You have those few who are really zeroed in on what they want," said Deputy Erik Douglass. "And there's quite a few you have to encourage ... `do you need toys, clothes?'"

Kids and their families were later whisked off to a celebration at the Academy Building for lunch and pictures with Santa Claus. The Polk County Service Integration team also sent kids home with food boxes.

"Shop with a Cop" events are common in communities in Oregon and the rest of the United States this time of year. The sheriff's office and the Dallas Walmart started their version in 1994, focusing on children from Grand Ronde.

Betty Sledge, a mental health counselor at Falls City and a program coordinator and longtime event volunteer, said the program now has three times the number of participants. In 2011, Falls City youths were included for the first time.

The event serves two main needs. For many participating kids, it represents their first opportunity to buy gifts for somebody else, Sledge said.

It's also about building rapport and trust, said Haynes, who's been a shopping buddy for the past 12 years.

"In some cases, not all, they don't always have good experiences with law enforcement," he said. "There are times we come in and have to make decisions that affect their families lives and that's not fun."

Sledge said many of the officers end up purchasing gifts for kids out of their own pockets.

Store patrons, meanwhile, "once they learn all those deputies aren't here for some threat, they'll hand us cash which we put into the fund for next year," Sledge said. "It's a really wonderful thing."

Ross runs into problems once she tries to think of a present for her mom. Haynes intervenes.

"Well, I've been in this situation before," Haynes explains, leaning over the front of the shopping cart. "Maybe a bath robe, or something that smells nice."

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