Between Jonesborough and Johnson City’s two events on Wednesday and Thursday, 164 kids got gifts, with about 120 of them paired with a law enforcement officer to go shopping. Kids 5 and older got $150 to spend at Walmart for the event, and got to hang out with a firefighter, police officer or deputy while they were at it.
Members of the Johnson City Police Department, Jonesborough Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, East Tennessee State University Public Safety Office, Elizabethton Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were among the representatives across the two events. Jonesborough has been hosting the event for eight years now, while JCPD’s Support Wives and Girlfriends picked up Johnson City’s event from a hiatus about three years ago.
Johnson City Police Officer Brittany Killebrew said she started volunteering with the event 12 years ago through the department’s Explorer program.
“I love seeing the smiles on the kids faces,” she said. “A lot of these kids don’t have positive (interaction) with a police officer because they see the police take mom and dad away or something, but here it’s all fun and games. It’s a cool bonding experience with the community.”
Johnson City took 63 kids shopping and provided gifts for 85 children, and Jonesborough took 61 and provided gifts for 79 kids. Donations from the community make this event possible every year, and both municipalities have experienced a surge of participation throughout the last few years.
Both programs are fueled by donations from the community — Johnson City received a large donation from Graphic Disorder earlier in the month and Jonesborough got almost $5,000 from the Kiwanis Club for the event.
Jonesborough Operations Manager Craig Ford said that without support from donors like the Kiwanis Club and from private donors, the project wouldn’t have the momentum to continue each year.
He added that keeping the program going is good not only to give all children in the community a chance to go Christmas shopping, but to show them not to be afraid of police officers.
“We try to show children that we care, we have children of our own and not to be afraid of a police officer, we’re the good guys, we’re their friends and they can come to us if they need help,” Ford said. “You try in that little bit of time you get to spend with them to develop a bond and a friendship so they know we’re the good guys.”
Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.