Annual event brings cops, kids together for holiday shopping
MOUNT VERNON — Dressed in her best Christmas dress, 10-year-old Mariana Buzante moved through the aisles of Walmart on Thursday, thoughtfully debating with Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Anne Weed what to put in their shopping cart.
“Maybe I’ll get something for my sister,” the Madison Elementary School student said.
Mariana was one of 32 children who participated in the annual “Shop with a Hero” event, where children receive gift cards from Walmart and get to spend an hour or so shopping with local law enforcement officers in preparation for Christmas.
This year, law enforcement officers with the State Patrol, the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office and the Anacortes, Burlington, Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and Swinomish Tribal police departments participated in the event.
“I think the core of police work is serving the community,” said Mount Vernon police officer Brien Reed, who has organized the event for the past nine years. “Anytime we can serve our children and create a better relationship with them, we’re doing a community service.”
Like Mariana, many children chose to spend their gift cards not on themselves, but on their siblings and parents.
“I wanted to spend it more on my family than on me,” said sixth-grader Kristian Sherburne, who filled his cart with a large Paw Patrol toy car for his 3-year-old sister, followed by a gift for his mom.
Kristian, 11, said he had fun shopping with Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jennifer Sheahan-Lee because she knew where to find all the things he was looking for and, like him, she knew from a young age that she wanted to go into law enforcement.
“I love that our community comes together to do this event,” Sheahan-Lee said. “It’s not just our first responders and our students, it’s businesses. I love that I get to meet kids I might otherwise meet under different circumstances.”
While the Mount Vernon Police Department is generally awarded grant money from Walmart to purchase the gift cards for the event, Reed said this year shoppers inside the store offered cash and gift cards once they found out what was happening.
“They see that we’re here and we’re trying to support kids in our community,” Sheahan-Lee said.
If the children exceed their gift card amount, Reed said, officers will usually chip in with their own money to help.
“I needed a bike and he said he would buy me it,” said fourth-grader Daniela Soto-Lopez of her uniformed shopping partner.
Daniela’s eyes grew wide when she learned she was shopping with the chief of a police department.
“It makes a good connection to the community,” Sedro-Woolley Police Chief Lin Tucker said.
The Mount Vernon Police Department and the Mount Vernon Police Services Guild this year each sponsored a local family for the event, Mount Vernon Police Lt. Chris Cammock said.
“I feel positive about today,” said Maria Garcia, who attended the event with her husband and three daughters.
Garcia said her husband was injured at work and she has had to take time off work to care for him.
“There’s some kids that don’t have money and are having a hard time and their parents can’t buy them what they want for Christmas,” said Garcia’s daughter, Lizbeth Santos, 11. “(Those kids) get to come here and have a good time.”