CRESTVIEW — For almost two decades, the Crestview Police Department’s Cops for Kids program has assisted struggling local families by providing new, age-appropriate unwrapped toys for children between ages 2 and 16.

On the morning of Dec. 15, CPD officers, members of the Crestview Citizens Police Academy Alumni and employees of Allen Turner Chevrolet gathered at Crestview’s Wal-Mart to purchase toys. Parents and guardians of local youths could apply for the program through the police department.

A VOLUNTARY EFFORT

"Last year we shopped for more than 130 kids, filling at least 16 shopping carts," CPD Public Information Officer Brian Hughes said. "This year, it looks like we may double the number of children served."

In fact, almost 250 local kids will benefit from this year's program, according to a CPD media release.

This increase is attributed to Allen Turner Chevrolet, which presented the police department with a check for more than $15,000. The automobile dealer's employees voluntarily deducted donations from their paychecks throughout the year.

"We decided that when [Allen Turner] bought the dealership over here, we wanted to do something… and this was a program that was local… it would be local kids, and it looked like a good thing for us to support," Susan Vaughn, office manager of Allen Turner Chevrolet, said.

"The first year that we did it, we didn’t collect a whole lot of money, so this year we made a much more concerted effort to make sure we got plenty and could help lots of kids with it."

Many other residents donated toys, funds and clothes; toys and cash also came from area businesses, including Edward Jones financial adviser Yvonne Shanklin.

'PEOPLE HAVE BEEN REAL GENEROUS'

Friday morning, Crestview Police Community Services Officers Wanda Hulion and Sam Kimmons, along with a number of volunteers, visited Wal-Mart to buy toys and other items. Helping them were members of the alumni group, police officers and Crestview City Clerk Betsy Roy.

The store was happy to accommodate the volunteers.

"We have a long-standing history here in the [city] of Crestview and we’ve been supported by the community every single year, and we love to give back in the spirit of our founder, Mr. Sam Walton, who always said, ‘Give back everywhere that you go,’" Tracy Dickerson, Wal-Mart’s store manager, said.

"If we can open our doors up and allow the local law enforcement — who we also support and have great respect for — to come in, and just be gracious hosts to them while they ... do a little shopping and spread some Christmas cheer, it’s our pleasure and it’s our privilege to be able to be involved in an event like this."

Twenty-five shopping carts contained 800 gifts for the Cops for Kids effort; the police department spent close to $10,000 for this year's shopping event, according to a CPD media release.

“People have been real generous this year,” Kimmons said. “These young ‘uns are going to be very happy Christmas morning.”

'WE JUST LOVE GIVING BACK'

Hulion said those requesting the program's assistance include "incapacitated parents, single parents on low incomes, families that recently moved to the area and have minimal financial resources, and even grandparents raising their own kids’ children on fixed incomes," the release stated.

"Some applicants were disqualified for having received assistance from the program last year or receiving assistance from another program," the release stated.

“We don’t allow double-dipping,” Kimmons said. “That’s not fair to other families.”

As for funds not used this year?

A portion will remain in the alumni group's Cops for Kids account for future Christmases. Some will help purchase toys to be distributed for the alumni group's annual Toy Run, during which police distribute toys in low-income housing areas just before Christmas.

“We just love giving back to our community,” Hulion said. “We sometimes have to deal with negative things.

"We look forward to doing this positive event.”