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Samantha Evans rubbed her little eyes, trying to wake up. It was early for a 7-year-old on a Saturday morning. But when it finally occurred to her what was about to happen, her eyes widened with pure joy.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
Samantha was one of nearly two dozen children chosen this year for the annual Shop with a Cop program sponsored by Wilson Law Enforcement Fellowship. The children shopped until they dropped Saturday, filling their carts with toys for Christmas.
While the program brings smiles to children’s faces, officers and first responders said it brings them just as much joy.
“It just puts us in the Christmas spirit,” said Wilson County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd O’Neal. “All of us enjoy helping the kids. It’s a time of giving.”
Each year, school counselors work with officials to select a needy child to be a part of the program. The child gets to spend between $150 and $200 on the day of the event.
“This is probably the only Christmas they will get,” said Wilson Police Sgt. Matt London, who heads the program. He said it gives officers a chance to show children they are more than the uniform they wear each day.
“It’s just a human connection,” London said.
The Wilson Law Enforcement Fellowship raises funds throughout the year to make the special day possible.
It took Samantha a little bit to get into the groove of picking out anything she wanted. But she knew exactly what she liked — L.O.L. Surprise dolls, which is one of the most popular toys this holiday season. The 7-year-old is also a huge Harry Potter fan. “Hermione is my favorite character,” Samantha said while grabbing a doll from the shelf. She couldn’t stop smiling.
“It lifts my spirit to just see the excitement on the children’s faces,” said Wilson County Cpl. Scott Drew, who was paired with Samantha. Drew also brought along his own children to help with the event.
Samantha’s mother, Ashley Fabrizio, said she was grateful to all who made the shopping possible Saturday.
“It’s just a blessing,” she said. Fabrizio is a single mom and working artist.
“This helps me out so much that they selected her to do this,” she said. “Because Christmas is always pressure. It can be difficult.”
Samantha’s little brother, Wyatt, was also there Saturday. And Samantha made sure the shopping spree wasn’t all about her.
“See anything you like?” she asked her brother, who later picked out a toy truck.
“I came to this aisle because I want my brother to pick out something,” Samantha said.
Later on, the family was blessed with another surprise. London came up to Drew and handed him some more money. They wanted 5-year-old Wyatt to have the same experience as his sister Saturday.
Wyatt immediately walked over to give London a huge hug.
Agencies who participated Saturday included the Wilson Police Department, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Wilson County 911 and Wilson County EMS. Fike High School’s Junior ROTC also assisted. Santa was also there Saturday morning. Families of the children who were part of the program thanked officers for their generosity.
The Hubert Vester Auto Group is one Shop with a Cop’s largest donors. Vester has been a part of the program for several years now.
“We try to get involved with initiatives that try and match up with our core values,” said Chris Vester. “When you watch what these kids do with the cops, it’s touching and truly fits in what we do business wise.”
Vester said it’s amazing to see so many children care about others in their family above themselves. He said last year, he shopped with a child who bought something for everybody else in his family. They had to finally tell the child to get something for himself.
“They have huge hearts,” he said about the children selected. “It’s just unadulterated care for whoever is around them.”