Children with huge grins, each accompanied by a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) employee, shopped eagerly through the Casa Grande Wal-Mart as the sun rose on Saturday.
The event was the second annual Sheriff’s Santa’s program. PCSO deputies identified 32 needy children from responding to calls or working as School Resource Officers. Each of the children, ages 8 to 13, received a $500 Wal-Mart gift card meant for the children to spend on themselves and their families.
PCSO Cpl. Kent Ogaard, who has been on the “Sheriff’s Santa’s” committee from the beginning, escorted many of the children, including 12-year-old Kachef, around the store. Kachef is one of four siblings relocated to Pinal County from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Ogaard explained.
“His family had to start all over again,” he said.
Like many of the other children in Sheriff’s Santa’s, Kachef selflessly spent most of his gift card choosing items for his family.
“You have to make the children spend money on themselves. Most want to buy for family members,” noted Ogaard, who said common items are high chairs, strollers, clothing, sheets and pillows. “In the true spirit of Christmas they want to give more than they receive.”
Most funds for Sheriff’s Santa’s were raised through a September golf tournament at Maricopa’s Royal Dunes Golf Club, which only donates the private course to this cause, noted Ogaard. Donations from large companies like Global Water and the Maricopa UPS Store help the program be successful, he said.
Maricopa UPS Store owner Taylor Werner founded Sheriff’s Santa’s with Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez. This year’s program served nearly double the children identified last year.
“Seeing the children’s faces light up and their goodness come forward as they check off their list for their families is priceless,” Sheriff Vasquez said. “It also helps the children to see our deputies and employees in a good light, as people who are here to help them.”
Grace Gomez, Zone 5 Lieutenant Governor of the Maricopa Optimist Club, and Renate Chamberlin of the Maricopa Optimist Club have helped with Sheriff’s Santa’s the past two years.
“The kids are our future. We need to show them so they understand that acts of kindness will come back to them,” Gomez said. “To give of yourself is the greatest gift you can give.”
The Optimist Club members helped with the tournament and then watched the children shop Dec. 15.
“We need to plant the seed of kindness as soon as we can,” Chamberlin added.
Additional funds from the Sheriff’s Santa’s program are being used to purchase new backpacks stuffed with school supplies and handed out to Pinal County students identified by PCSO School Resource Officers. According to Werner, at least 100 backpacks will be given to students at around 20 county schools.
Ogaard is pleased with Sheriff’s Santa’s and has his sights set high for its third year.
“It’s a really cool program,” he said. “Next year we hope to double it again.”
To donate to Sheriff’s Santa’s, call Ogaard at (520) 705-5582 or Werner at (520) 568-5712.