Kids at Target use their $100 to buy gifts for others

Gainesville Police Officer Wilfredo Perez receives a candy cane from Luis Bonilla, 10, after the two shopped together at the Target on SW Archer Road during the annual Heroes and Helpers event on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.

A cavalcade of cop cars with blaring sirens rolled up to Target, but not to respond to a crime. There were elementary school kids inside each patrol vehicle, peering out windows and waving at an army of red-shirt employees.

“Some of these officers are coming right off the night shift,” Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones said, as he waved at the kids. “This is real good.”

Officer Joseph Johnson Castor, 26, a two-year veteran of the force, was one of those fresh off the night shift for the annual GPD Target Heroes and Helpers event. He had 10-year-old Earnest Graham with him, a fifth-grader from Stephen Foster Elementary. Earnest told Castor he wanted a bike, but quickly changed his mind when he got in the store.

Kids from elementary schools — between first and fifth grade — all over Alachua County were selected based on need and merit, and given a gift bag and a $100 certificate for a shopping spree on Friday. Target manager Brian Jablonski said local businesses from all over Gainesville donated money for the event, and Beef O’ Brady’s provided the group with lunch.

“We’re gonna have some fun today,” Jablonski told the kids. “Go to the left and grab a cart and have at it.”

“You still thinking about that bike or no?” Castor asked.

Earnest said he was not. He wanted to go to the toy aisle.

He looked at some toy guns and then confessed his love for wrestling. The toy aisle was jammed with cops and kids. There was an “ooh” and then some pointing by Earnest. He loves a pair of wrestlers named Seamus and Rey Mysterio.

Should he get more wrestlers? Should he get a wrestling ring? Castor facilitated the young boy’s decisions.

As they shopped, Earnest said he loved basketball, so Castor took him to the sporting goods aisles.

“How much do I have now?” Earnest asked the cop.

“Hold on, let me calculate.”

Castor, in full uniform, used his iPhone as a calculator in one hand and a notebook with tallies in the other, switching his head from side to side.

But Earnest wasn’t just thinking about himself. Earnest has a brother, and he bought him some stuff, too.

Castor put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t forget about your sister.”

“Oh yeah,” Earnest answered. He said he doesn’t get to see his sister as much as he would like. “I love them very dearly,” Earnest said.

Castor suggested a lotion set, and Earnest got one for his mother, too.

“You’re doing good, man. You got something for everybody.”

Earnest said he wanted to ride in the car some more, and Castor nodded.

When asked about what he wanted to be when he got older, he said a basketball player, “or a cop, just like him” and pointed at Castor.

“That’s great. It’s a good job,” Castor said. “It’s about helping people.”

While Castor’s radio crackled with police speak, the two found out that red was each other’s favorite color.”

While they roll through the aisles, with Castor a little ahead, Earnest reaches up and puts his hand on the officer’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” he says.

Castor puts his hand over the boy’s shoulder in return.

Jerry Phillips, a boy from Duval Elementary, was shopping Friday, too, and he faced a sort of conundrum. He wanted a Nintendo 3DS, but he also wanted to buy presents for his family. He chose the latter. At the checkout line, Officer Jeff Kerkau had a surprise for him. He bought Jerry the game system with his own money.

“I would say a lot of kids didn’t buy things for themselves,” GPD Officer Ben Tobias said, “and a lot of the officers paid out of their own pockets.”

The story was the same with Castor.

When Earnest hit the checkout line, he is a few dollars over his limit, so the officer pulls out his check card to pay the difference.

“You did some good shopping, man,” the officer says.

“I’m wise with my money,” the boy answers.

“That’s the way to be.”

They’re one of the last pairs out of the building. They pose for pictures and stand next to a K-9 dog.

Castor tells Earnest that if he wants to be a cop, he needs to get good grades and care about people.

They walk through the parking lot and put the gifts in the trunk of the patrol car.

“We’ll take the longest way back we can,” Castor said.

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