F.O.P. gives kids Christmas boost

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

BUFORD -- When Aqula Ingren's hours were slashed at work, she put buying a Christmas tree on the back-burner. Gifts for her five youngsters hung in the balance.

On Saturday, with several big sacks of prewrapped toys in tow, the Lawrenceville resident called her prayers answered.

"This means so much to my family I can't even explain," said Ingren, a customer service rep with a home repair company. "This is like a blessing."

That sentiment hardly stopped there.

Seventy-seven Gwinnett kids on Saturday were treated to a boost of holiday spirit courtesy of the F.O.P. Cops and Kids gift program. Buford's American Legion Post No. 127 teemed with present-totting youngsters and law enforcement. Santa Claus made his obligatory cameo as well.

Law enforcement who live and work in Gwinnett culled $7,000 for gifts via a telemarketing campaign. The biannual charity, now more than 20 years running, replaces the Shop With A Cop program, said organizer Ray Dunlap, president of the roughly 250-member Lodge No. 66 responsible for the presents.

"All of the money (businesses and residents) donate stays within this county," Dunlap said.

Several Gwinnett high schoolers forfeited extra hours of slumber Saturday morning to handle logistics.

"I like to see the little kids being happy," said volunteer/makeshift elf Rosany Espinal, 16, a Collins Hill High School junior and Sheriff's Department Explorer.

The Division of Family and Children Services provided organizers with names and wish-lists of kids in need of gifts. The program echoed the success of the group's other philanthropy for back-to-school supplies, Dunlap said.

"In the past we just took them to Wal-Mart," said Dunlap, as bag-lugging kids broke for the exit. "This gives them a chance to react with law enforcement a little ... in a positive way."