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Sharing the spirit of giving

12/04/2017 10:59AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Police officers, store employees and event organizers high-five the children as they arrived.

Gallery: Shop With the Sheriff [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

There was enough Christmas spirit to overcome an army of Grinches at the Walmart in East Marlborough on Saturday morning.

For the fourth year, “Shop With the Sheriff,” spearheaded by Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, brought the best day ever to more than 100 students from the Chester County Family Academy, a K-2 school for disadvantaged children in West Chester. Donations from area philanthropic groups and others provided $100 per child, who arrived with a prepared gift list for family members.

Welcomed off of two school buses that arrived with a loud police escort, the wide-eyed children were greeted at the door of the store with a double line of Walmart employees in holiday attire, along with dozens of police officers from throughout the county, and adults who helped put the event together. Curious shoppers paused to watch the students walk through a double line of cheerful high-fives as they made their way to the employee break room. There, they kept busy with workbooks and a movie while students were called out to team up with a police officer and head out on their shopping sprees.

The day began for the students at 8:30 a.m., when they gathered at Providence Church in West Chester before boarding the buses for a siren-filled trip to the store. Armed with their list of family members and gift ideas, they set out through the store, hunting down just the right presents, frequently crossing paths with their friends riding in other shopping carts.

Officer Matthew Mendenhall was teamed up with Khamille, 7, and they both couldn't stop smiling as they shopped. “I don't remember a whole lot of stuff about being in elementary school, but I remember when the police officer came in,” said Mendenhall, who serves in Coatesville as a K-9 handler for the Sheriff's Office. Coatesville happened to be where Khamille lives. “Hopefully, the kids will have that same kind of positive experience today.”

Mendenhall has been in law enforcement for almost 16 years, he said. “This is my first opportunity to do something like this. I've been very excited about it,” he added, saying that he had heard nothing but great things about the event from his fellow officers. “This is a whole other aspect of the job, because we're getting out into the community and it's a real positive light. Usually there's a majority of our work that's on the negative side, and we see people at their worst. So it's so nice for us to be involved in things like this.”

With her sights set on the perfect jewelry for her mom, Khamille stood on tiptoe to see into the jewelry display, finally finding a heart locket. A store employee carefully opened the case and held the necklace up while Khamille nodded enthusiastically.

There were rain boots to pick out for her sister, a blanket to find with the help of a store employee, and other gifts to make her holiday bright. When she had finished her list, it was time for a giddy trip to the Barbie aisle, where Khamille was able to pick out a small Barbie house for herself.

Mendenhall offered her a chance to meet his police dog, Niro, but she decided she was a little bit afraid. After filling her cart with everything she needed, Khamille had her purchases totaled and bagged for transportation back to West Chester, where they would be wrapped by a small army of volunteers.

The $100 expense account, Mendenhall said, is just a guideline, and if a child goes a bit over, the police department picks up the cost. It's part of an outreach effort that pays dividends for a lifetime, as children get a chance to see that police officers are concerned for their well-being and are happy to help.

Mendenhall posed for a final photo with Khamille, and headed back to escort another shopper around the store.

In the back room, officer Michael Cabry was meeting Ezekiel Mayo, who had his heart set on some well-chosen gifts for his family, but was lured by the wrestling action figures and Lego playsets for himself.

“If you see something you like, point it out, bud,” Cabry told Ezekiel, who settled on a gleaming WWE championship wrestling belt and a few Lego toys that were suggested by Cabry. “Awww, WWE! You're my favorite kid!” Cabry said, grinning. “We're best friends now.”

After the excitement of all the shopping, the students ended their day with lunch, photos with Santa, caroling and holiday activities back at the West Chester church. For the organizers and officers, and for the shoppers who paused to watch the Christmas spirit in action, the morning was a warm reminder of the spirit of giving.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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