More children than ever before will get a chance to shop for themselves this year as part of an annual holiday charity program organized by the Delaware County Sheriff's Office.
This month, 196 area youngsters will participate in the Shop with the Sheriff's Office program and purchase items they otherwise would not receive. The program usually accommodates about 180-190 children.
Each year, a variety of area stores donate to the program to give Delaware County children in need a chance to buy some new winter clothes and a toy or two.
"This is an opportunity for children to spend some time with a member of law enforcement," said Sheriff Russ Martin in a press release. "It helps them gain a positive understanding of what we do and that we are here to help them."
About half the children participated last week; the rest were set to shop this weekend. A total of six outings were scheduled this year from Dec. 2-16.
The average expense is about $100 per child. There is no cost to the families.
Participating children pair up with a deputy or sheriff's office employee, who guides them through the process of picking out items. Often, they receive a new winter coat, boots and socks, according to sheriff's office Communication Operations Supervisor Stephanie Burns.
"We make sure we get them what they need, but of course they usually end up in the toy aisle at some point so they can get a few things they want," Burns said.
Cheerleaders from schools around Delaware County also volunteer to help with the program.
Each child's parent or guardian works with the sheriff's office to determine his or her needs.
Participants are referred to the sheriff's office by local schools and assistance agencies who have identified families in need.
Participating stores include Meijer, T.J. Maxx, Walmart and Big Lots.
In addition to shopping, the stores provide breakfast or an afternoon snack.