Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department Deputy Sheriff Nicolette McLeod, right, gives a high five to Jaime Sanchez, 9, beside sister Kaitlyn, 14, step father Jose Horna and Deputy Karen Elliott during the annual Cops and Kids shopping event at the Walmart in Lawrenceville on Thursday. One hundred and forty underprivileged kids were given a $100 limit to buy Christmas gifts.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- As John Fabbri and his new shopping buddy David strolled around WalMart on Thursday night, they struck up a quick friendship, and had a friendly competition with David's brothers and Fabbri's colleague.
Fabbri has taken part in the "Cops and Kids" program as a member of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Deparment for five or six years, and said doing it makes his heart grow like in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
As David and his brothers waged sneak attacks on each other, Fabbri and his 15-year colleague, Frank Woods, joined in on the fun. When the boys weren't looking at Nerf guns, they darted around the corner and pegged each other with a ball or stuffed animal.
"The back and forth is good," Fabbri said with a hearty laugh inside the Collins Hill Road store.
As Fabbri and David looked over a paint ball gun, they considered a pair of goggles, too.
"So you want the goggles," Fabbri said.
"I need the goggles," said David, before he reconsidered.
For about 140 kids, the Fraternal Order of Police and about seven Gwinnett law enforcement agencies took park in the annual event where each child received $100 for gifts, and about 100 of those families received a box of food donated from Hebron Baptist Church.
Last year, the event counted about 80 children, but this year the spike of participants was attributed to a $5,000 donation from Suzanna's Kitchen in Duluth, said Col. Don Pinkard of the Gwinnett Sheriff's Office. The FOP also had extra money this year, so it purchased coats for each child, said Connie Chesser, a second vice president of the FOP.
Chesser said the FOP works with the Division of Family and Children Services to select the children and families.
"It lets the kids know that the officer is their friend," Chesser said. "We're here for you, don't be afraid of us."
The local event has been around for about 20 years, Pinkard said, and the idea of donating boxes of food came after some children asked if they could spend their money on food.
"We just try to do something to make sure they get what they need," Chesser said.
One of the challenges for the officers was to keep a running tally of the potential purchases, but they were prepared for plenty of changes of minds.
"They'll get halfway through and realize, 'I want that instead, what was the price of that other one," Chesser said.
One of those situations played out with Fabbri and David after they looked over a Zoomo disc launcher and catch set. David finally put it back.
"After seven days, it wouldn't be cool," he said.
A few steps away, Fabbri said, "everything catches their eye," before he asked David if he was into radio-controlled cars. But David had already moved on to a Spiderman display. Looking at the capabilities of this particular Spiderman figure, Fabbri asked what he could do against rivals.
"You didn't think I knew my superheroes archenemies," Fabbri said.
With a daughter who is in her late 20s, Fabbri hasn't personally shopped in the kid toy section in many years, and for this event, he's previously shopped mostly with girls. But he hasn't aged as much in his mind. Fabbri said he recalled times as a newlywed when he was popular with neighbor kids.
"I'm like a big kid myself," Fabbri said. "So when my wife and I got married, the kids used to come to the door, 'Can your husband come out and play?"
So Thursday night seemed as much fun for Fabbri as it did for David.
"It's a blast," Fabbri said.