TEXARKANA — Christmas came early for almost 300 local children on Tuesday as they took part in the annual Shop With a Cop and Firefighter event on both sides of the state line.
At the Arkansas-side Walmart Supercenter, 160 children received $100 gift cards to spend on whatever they wanted. On the Texas side, 113 children spent $180 each at Target. In both locations, police, other law enforcement officers and firefighters teamed up with families to help choose the perfect gifts.
Shortly before 9 a.m., a parade of police cruisers and fire trucks with emergency lights flashing and sirens wailing arrived at each store as children who had been waiting for them waved. On the Arkansas side, Walmart provided free doughnuts, milk and juice for the children, some as young as 3, as they waited for their turn to shop.
Families left with cartloads of toys, clothes and other gifts, plenty of smiles and, organizers hope, a favorable impression of the police officers and firefighters they may encounter in other circumstances throughout the year.
A Texarkana, Arkansas, Police Department statement called the event "a spirit of fellowship that takes place during the holiday season and reinforces the positive aspects of community and Police relationships."
This year's was the 27th annual Shop With a Cop and Firefighter event, according to previous Gazette reports.
"It has been an amazing record year. We're so blessed and thankful to help more kids than ever before," said Sgt. Kristi Bennett, TAPD's public information officer. There were so many recipients that many officers shopped with more than one family.
Various businesses and organizations — including Scotties's Grill, On the Border and Newk's Eatery — held fundraisers for the program this year, and police and firefighters raised money through events such as rib-eating and beard-growing contests.