PRESCOTT - Christmas came early for more than 85 local kids on Saturday as the 16th annual Shop with a Cop event kicked off at Walmart in Prescott.
The event pairs local law enforcement officers with less-fortunate boys and girls ranging in age from 7 to 12, event coordinator Nancy Marquez said. Each child was given $250 to spend on gifts for themselves and their family members.
"We try to encourage the kids to buy for the family; it's not just for them," Marquez said. "The idea is to teach them giving."
Children are referred to the program by a variety of schools and organizations, such as Child Protective Services, Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Red Cross.
With lights flashing and sirens blaring, dozens of vehicles from law enforcement organizations including the Prescott Police, Arizona Game and Fish, US Marshals, US Forestry, animal control and the Highway Patrol made their way from the Yavapai College campus in Prescott Valley to the Walmart on Gail Gardener Way in Prescott.
Getting in on the fun, the Prescott Fire Department chauffeured Santa and Mrs. Claus to the event atop a large fire truck.
"Let's do some shopping!" Santa exclaimed as he hopped off the truck.
Along with Santa and Mrs. Claus, McGruff the Crime Dog, Burnie from the Sundogs, Eddie Eagle, Deputy Do-Right, Smokey Bear, and cheerleaders from Prescott and Bradshaw Mountain high schools welcomed the kids to the event.
"It's so exciting. The kids look so happy. They have their arms linked together; they're having a great time," Walmart assistant manager Kimberly MacDonald said.
More than 50 volunteers were on hand to lend assistance to the officers and wrap the kids' gifts in colorful holiday paper.
Kaitlynn Bross-Carroll, 8, got down to business filling her shopping cart with holiday gifts.
"I am looking for stuff my family will like," Bross-Carroll said, smiling ear to ear.
In addition to shopping, the officers and kids were treated to breakfast courtesy of the Subway shop located inside the store.
At about 11:30 a.m., officers loaded the kids and their wrapped gifts back into their vehicles to head to the college where their family members eagerly waited to pick them up.
"Shop with a Cop has proven to be a very worthwhile program for the children, their families, the volunteers and the communities involved," Lt. Ken Morley said. "This event is made possible solely from donations from quad-city citizens, organizations and businesses."
Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone.