County students get to shop — for free

Gainesville Police Officer Joseph Castor shops with a 10-year-old student at Target on SW Archer Road for the annual Helpers and Heroes program. Each officer was paired with an area elementary school student to help them spend $100 for whatever they wanted.

DOUG FINGER/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:30 p.m.

Twenty-two boys and girls arrived last Friday at Target, each in their very own marked police car with lights flashing and sirens blazing.

They were elementary school students selected to participate in the "Helpers and Heroes" program, formerly "Shop with a Cop," a partnership with the Gainesville Police Department and Target Corp.

The adventure began with the children being picked up from their school by a GPD officer in a marked police car. They were taken to lunch and then driven to Target as part of a more than 20-car motorcade. At Target, the smiling children and their GPD officers were greeted with applause and cheers.

Each child, accompanied with their very own GPD escort, received a $100 Target gift card to spend in the store.

Officer Ben Tobias, GPD public information officer, said GPD officers volunteered their time to encourage the children and to help them shop. The event was funded by community donations.

GPD Chief Tony Jones said the children appeared to be more interested in shopping for their families than for themselves.

"They're getting things for their families," Jones said. "I'm impressed." Jones said Helpers and Heroes is a great partnership for GPD, the community and Target working together to provide something special for children and their families.

Chris Battles, a fifth-grader at Duval Elementary School, purchased gifts for his mom and his three sisters. He bought pink bears for his sisters, toiletries for his mom and older sister, and a basketball, a Nerf game, and a remote helicopter for himself.

Officer Ernest Graham said the first thing Chris did was to shop for his mother and sisters. "He knew what he wanted," Graham said. "Seeing his love for his family was a boost to my Christmas spirit and my spirit overall."

"Everyone is very nice," Chris said. "I appreciate it."

Christopher Jackson, a first-grader at Metcalfe Elementary, knew he wanted Transformers, lots of them.

"This is a big help for Christmas," said Angelo Neal, Christopher's mother. Neal said her son was very excited and looking forward to the big day. "Every day he asked, ‘Is it today, Mom?'" Neal said. "This morning when he asked, I said yes, and he said ‘Yay!'"

Allen Williams, a fourth-grader at Rawlings Elementary School, went straight to the games department, where he selected a Nintendo 3DS game and a couple of other games.

Lashanti Fountain, a fourth-grader at A. Quinn Jones, bought Barbie everything and Matchbox cars for her brothers. "I found everything I wanted," said a smiling Lashanti.

Kenyata McCoy, a second-grader at Williams Elementary, purchased gifts for his grandmother, his auntie, his brothers and a couple of things for himself. At the checkout, he still had $5 left, which he spent on candy.

Officer Philippe Hilare said Kenyata demonstrated a great love for his family.

"At this age, he is already family oriented," Hilare said. "I think he has great love for his family. It's a great thing to see at his age."

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