WINDER - Police officers don't just arrest people and hand out traffic tickets. Many of Gwinnett and Barrow County's police and fire departments are helping families who might not otherwise have Christmas.
The Gwinnett County Fraternal Order of Police sponsored 80 children for a shopping trip to Wal-Mart on Collins Hill Road Thursday night. Two 12-week fundraisers this year gathered about $20,000.
"The children see and understand that law enforcement is their friend," said Cpl. Ray Dunlap. "Cops are in a profession to help, not to put people in jail."
Barrow County Sheriff's Office, Snellville and Winder police departments also participate in the Shop With a Cop program.
At 8 a.m. Saturday, 15 Winder cops will load 15 kids in police cars for a shopping trip to Wal-Mart. Each child gets a gift card worth $200 and the officer gets a list of the child's needs from the mother. This is Winder Police Department's sixth year offering the program. The families are selected by the Tree House.
"The first year, Mayor Ouzts got calls saying, 'The cops are here at Wal-Mart Christmas shopping with their kids,'" said Lt. Dennis Dorsey, program coordinator. "Now we put signs on Wal-Mart's front doors on shopping day explaining the program."
Winder's Shop With a Cop program is funded through donations and the YMCA's Summer's End 5K Road Race.
"We have a chance to change some attitudes," Dorsey said. "One kid was petrified of cops. The only contact some kids have with cops is when one comes to the house and takes away daddy."
Snellville's Wal-Mart will fill with 20 children shopping with Snellville cops at 6 p.m. Monday. When Snellville police began offering the program five years ago, they relied on donations and fundraisers. Now, Wal-Mart gives Snellville a $3,500 grant that supplies 20 children each with a $175 gift card.
"The officers enjoy it because they see the kids' enjoyment in it," said Detective Tim Colgan, who started the program at Snellville. "During the holidays the crime rates go up and it is a bright spot for them."
On Dec. 22, Barrow County deputies will take about 10 children to the Wal-Mart in Winder armed with gift cards worth about $125. The shopping trip is funded by outside donations and employee contributions.
Statham police are sponsoring a family recommended by the First Baptist Church.
"The family will not know who their benefactors are," said Sgt. Thomas Hinson. "We went through the church because people in those types of situations don't normally go to the police, they go to churches."
Eight Statham officers raised $400 to buy the family clothing and toys.
Gwinnett County firefighters participated in a toy drive Dec. 6 and 7 with Technology Park in Norcross. Business employees donated toys and firefighters collected them from each business.
Barrow County Fire and Emergency Services is finishing the second annual Empty Stocking Toy Drive Dec. 16. Personnel take ambulances, fire trucks, Santa Claus and Sparky the dog into area subdivisions to collect new toys and monetary donations. All donations go to Peace Place, a battered women's shelter, and Holiday Connection, a toy drive for local children.