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Kids get to purchase, wrap their holiday gifts, all with a police escort in Willmar, Minn.

Tatonka Pendleton, 6, left, looks over toys Sunday with Willmar Police Officer Matt Peters during the annual Shop With a Cop event at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Willmar. Twenty children, including Alyah Anderson, 10, top right, who shopped with Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Deputy Brett Bilky, received a $50 Wal-Mart gift card to shop with during the event. Tribune photos by Ron Adams

Twenty children got a police escort through the local Wal-Mart Supercenter Sunday evening, but they we-ren't in any trouble with the law and at the end of the evening, they had wrapped Christmas presents to give their family members. The annual "Shop with a Cop" event has been going on in Willmar for about 10 years, according to Willmar Police Sgt. Julie Asmus.

The 20 children received a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, donated by store employees, and were assigned an officer, from the Willmar Police Department, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office or the Minnesota State Patrol, to help them shop and make their purchases.

"It's just sheer fun and joy," to shop with the children, Asmus says. She simply posts a sign-up sheet for officers who wish to volunteer their time for the annual shopping event. "It's great to see how pleased a child is with his purchases."

In the first few years of the program, the children, usually between the ages of 6 and 14, were selected from a list kept by the local Salvation Army. Most recently, Kandiyohi County Family Services makes the referrals. Children can also be referred through the school system. During several years, the number of children served by the program has been expanded to 40 children, thanks to generous donations from local businesses.

The criteria include children from families in financial need, but also in need of positive involvement with law enforcement officers, Asmus says.

After the children completed their purchases, it was time to wrap the gifts. "Law enforcement spouses and volunteers help us wrap the presents," Asmus explained, that way, the gifts are all ready for giving.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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