Shop with SWAT

 Mercer County Sheriff’s Department’s SWAT team picks out toys for this year’s ‘Shop with SWAT’ program at the Princeton Walmart on Friday. This was a team effort organized by the Child Protect’s Starting Point Family Resource Center.

PRINCETON — Members of Mercer County’s SWAT team equipped themselves Friday with shopping carts so they could help fill Christmas wish lists for children in need.

The SWAT team of Mercer County Sheriff’s Department deputies rendezvoused at the Walmart Supercenter off Greasy Ridge Road to help with the annual Shop with SWAT. Organized by Child Protect’s Starting Points Family Resource Center, the deputies and the center’s personnel started shopping for presents.

About 70 children will be benefiting from Shop with SWAT this year, said LeDeana Morgan, program director for Starting Points. Children shopped with the officers during past events, but they stayed home this year due to the ongoing pandemic. The children usually accompany officers so they see law enforcement in a positive light.

The gifts will be distributed to the children “individually and one at a time with their families,” Morgan said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting a lot of pressure on many households, so there are more requests for assistance this year.

“Everybody has had a really hard time this year,” Morgan said before shopping got underway. “Our numbers have been up this season, and we want to give an example to everyone, not just for children but everyone in the community. If you can’t do anything, you can give back something small. Any little thing helps.”

Stephanie Lacy, the center’s lead visitation specialist, showed the Bluefield Daily Telegraph a Letter to Santa form that participating children filled out with their parents’ help.

“It has their age, how good they’ve been – they have all been good – and what they would like to have,” Lacy said. “They’ve been writing the letters with their parents and putting them in the box we have.”

Deputies proceeded into the busy store with shopping lists ready. Some found themselves going to the cosmetics department for some Christmas wish requests, but they were soon in the toy department and filling their shopping carts with Slime, toy dinosaurs, riding toys, games and other gifts.

“Thank you for your service,” one shopper told the deputies as they headed for the toy aisles.

New Deputy J.P. Conner was enjoying his first Shop with SWAT experience.

“Oh man, it feels great,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. It gives these kids a smile and a merrier Christmas than they would have had.”

Deputies read toy labels and checked for issues such as small parts and whether a gift was age appropriate. Members of law enforcement often encounter children in need when they answer calls that take them into homes, Deputy M.T. Hatfield said.

“This is an opportunity to give a little bit more, “ he added.

Starting Points workers and deputies gathered in the toy department and checked lists to make sure every gift had been found before heading to the check-out aisles. The store was busy, so they found themselves going to the garden department.

Morgan said deputies who could not participate Friday donated money to the program.

“I hope the kids have a good Christmas,” Detective Sgt. S.A. Sommers said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com

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