Wide-eyed wonder will envelop the East Marlborough Walmart on Saturday, December 2, for the “Fourth Annual Shop with the Sheriff.”
More than 100 children from the Chester County Family Academy, a K-2 charter school in West Chester, will receive a law-enforcement escort to the store – complete with wailing sirens and flashing lights. Once there, the children will be paired with deputy sheriffs, who will serve as personal shoppers, ensuring that the students get the perfect gifts for their family members.
For a number of years, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh and her deputies participated in “Shop with a Cop,” a similar excursion organized by the Coatesville Police Department. Welsh, a board member of the Chester County Family Academy, decided to replicate the opportunity for the charter school.
“This is an extraordinary event for everyone involved, and it gets better every year; the joy and happiness the children experience cannot be measured,” said Welsh. “These beautiful children have a fun-filled day shopping and having lunch with the deputies. It is a time when law enforcement and the community come together and get to know each other. You cannot begin to quantify or measure the longstanding positive effect on everyone.”
Welsh also applauded the generosity of Walmart and the many sponsors and volunteers who make the event possible. “It all comes together in one joy-filled day, full of love and the true Christmas spirit,” Welsh added.
For anyone interesting in sponsoring a child, a $50 donation will be matched by a corporate sponsor, Welsh said. Prospective donors should contact Donna Walton at 610-344-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Any businesses that would like to participate should contact Lt. Harry McKinney at email@example.com or 610-344-4314.
Organizers in the Sheriff’s Office began preparations months ago. During the event, more than 100 volunteers will perform a host of duties, ranging from overseeing the check-out process to gift-
wrapping. In addition to shopping, the students will receive photos with Santa and sing holiday carols.
Students come to the event with a gift list, the result of collaboration with their teachers and family members. Practical choices such as pajamas, slippers, blankets, scarves and gloves typically
dominate the lists. If money is left over, students are encouraged to pick out a little something for themselves.
Susan Flynn, the academy’s chief executive officer, said the students really look forward to the experience. The older students share details with the younger ones, fueling the excitement. “This is always one of the best days of their lives,” Flynn said. “The memories last forever.”
Flynn said “Shop with the Sheriff” produces other lasting benefits. “The trust that it provides with law enforcement, not just with the children but also with their families, is so important, especially during these troubled times,” she said. “Plus, for one day, the students can forget their problems, focus on just being kids, and enjoy the spirit of Christmas.”
Staff members at Walmart, some of whom request schedule changes so they can participate, routinely report heartwarming interaction with the children. Welsh said customers have also provided positive feedback each year. Some have even donated funds or served as volunteers for the following year’s event.
The Chester County Family Academy was founded in 1997 to carry out the vision of local philanthropists Dick and Sheila Sanford “to make a difference in the lives of children.” Most of the families, for whom English is a second language, struggle financially but share a strong commitment to the importance of education