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Nearly 300 local children in need got a merry Christmas this year, thanks to the Jeffco Shop with a Cop program, which held its first-ever shopping events over the past week, Festus Police Cpl. Lewis Pippin said.

Each of the children got to pick out $100 worth of Christmas presents during the shopping sprees.

About 160 of those children participated in a shopping trip on Dec. 13 at the Festus Walmart. They are students at the Crystal City, Dunklin, Festus, Jefferson R-7 and Windsor school districts, said Pippin, who’s the vice president of the Jeffco Shop with a Cop board of directors.

Another shopping trip was held Monday at the De Soto Walmart, with about 125 students from the De Soto, Grandview, Hillsboro and Sunrise school districts taking part, he said.

Pippin said it was touching to see the children so happy.

“The kids were filled with all kinds of excitement, and there were lots of happy tears,” he said.

Pippin said between 30 and 40 children from each district were selected to take part in the shopping trips, and each child was paired with a police officer or other first responder to shop with.

The program is designed not only to provide children in kindergarten through sixth grade with gifts at Christmas but also to foster positive relationships between the children and local emergency service personnel, Pippin said.

“It’s to bridge a gap, to open communication between us and the kids,” he said. “It makes us (first responders) more approachable. It gives them the chance to see us at good times, and that impact could last forever.”

Twenty-six police, fire and emergency service agencies make up the newly formed Jeffco Shop with a Cop program, including the Crystal City, De Soto, Festus, Herculaneum, Hillsboro and Pevely police departments and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson College Police Department and the Jefferson College Law Enforcement Academy, as well as the Antonia, Crystal City, De Soto, De Soto Rural, Dunklin, Festus, Hematite, Herculaneum, Hillsboro, Goldman, Mapaville and Jefferson R-7 fire districts or departments and the Joachim-Plattin, Rock Township and Valle ambulance districts. In addition, the Dunklin R-5 School District, which has its own police department, participates in the program, along with Survival Flight.

The Arnold and Byrnes Mill police departments have their own Shop with a Cop programs. The Arnold Police held its shopping event on Dec. 12, and the Byrnes Mill Police held its shopping trip Dec. 6, followed by a dinner for the kids and their parents on Monday.

Counselors from the various school districts provide the Jeffco Shop with a Cop program with the names of children for the shopping trips, Pippin said.

He said students from the Festus R-6 School District rode to the event on a schoolbus, with a police escort.

When children arrived at Walmart, they were treated to milk and cookies, and they also got to visit with Santa.

Jeffco Shop with a Cop, a nonprofit organization, raised more than $30,000 for the shopping event, Pippin said.

He said the organization held several fundraisers throughout the year to provide the funds for the shopping trip, including raffles, a trivia night and a Trunk or Treat event held in October at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

Jeffco Shop with a Cop has a six-member board that runs the program. In addition to Pippin, the board includes Festus Police Cpl. Jessica Griffaw, who is the president; Patrolman Tyler Schmitz of the Crystal City Police Department; Officer Mark Grobe of the Dunklin R-5 School District Police Department; Sgt. Larry Miller of the Pevely Police Department and Lt. Matthew Moore of the Sheriff’s Office.

Anyone interested in more information about the organization or donating to it may visit the Jeffco Shop with a Cop Facebook page.