The 24th Annual St. Francois County Shop With a Cop program has grown each year but this year’s event will be the largest yet.

Approximately 460 kids came through Farmington Walmart Thursday morning to shop with law enforcement. A makeup event will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 22 at Desloge Walmart for about 75 eligible children unable to make it Thursday.

Each year hundreds of less fortunate children are treated to a $100 shopping spree called “Shop With a Cop” — a program of the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department made possible by the community’s generous donations and many volunteers.

There were more than 100 men and women in uniform from the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri Department of Conservation, various police municipalities from around the county, the 911 center, EMS, fire departments and recruits from the Mineral Area College Law Enforcement Academy.

To start the morning, each child participating in the program were treated to a donut or cookie and a carton of milk or juice and they were then checked in and assigned an officer, followed by a special greeting from Santa Claus himself along with Superman and Catwoman who were handing out coloring books.

Shop With a Cop Coordinator Lora Henson said the event was a success and they had a lot of officers turn out. She said they had firefighters step up to help this year.

“We had an awesome turnout and the line was a little bit slow to start off with, but other than that it was a great kick-off, so it was good,” said Henson. “I think there was a lot more law enforcement out here and even with that most of them went through the line three or four times rather than just one time.”

Henson believes the helpers enjoyed the chance to shop with several different kids and interact with them.

“So I think they enjoyed it as well,” said Henson. “We ran out of officers at one point to take the kids shopping, so we had to wait for them and we had kids lined up out the door. This year was a little bit bigger than what it has been, but we still pulled it off and it was a great success.”

St. Francois County Sheriff Dan Bullock said they had a lot of kids come up and give them hugs and thank you’s throughout the day.

“It has been fantastic and everything went very smooth,” said Bullock. “This is 24 years and it worked like a well-oiled machine. The officers are getting used to it and we change things that don’t work so it’s working better.”

Bullock said by the time they are done next week they will have helped more than 550 kids this holiday season.

“It’s just wonderful,” said Bullock. “It’s hard to tell how many officers were out here this year, but they were all here and walking around. We had superheroes here, Catwoman and Superman. These kids have had a ball and I think the officers have too.”

Bullock said the Ferguson chief of police came down to see the program in action and he was able to watch how it all works.

“They are in very bad need of some community relations between the people and officers up there,” said Bullock. “He has asked if we could maybe come up and assist him in getting the program started up there. We have agreed to do that.”

Missouri Department of Corrections Officer Charles Allgier came out for his first time to shop with the kids, but what made it so special was that he was once that kid shopping with an officer.

“I can’t remember how old I was, but if I had to guess, I’d say I was 10 or 12 years old when I shopped with a cop,” said Allgier. “When I was a kid, I was thrilled I could go shopping with a cop and get that $100 worth of toys. To a kid, that is a lot and now that I am a lot of older and saw this was an option for us, I wanted to see that excitement and see the kids thrilled to get toys.”

Allgier works for the prison and is in the military. He said any way he can help out and give back to the community, he will do it.

“My memory of when I did this, of what I think it was, I see the same excitement in these kids’ eyes as what I think I had,” said Allgier. “It’s awesome to give back to the community and I hope to do this each year.”

Missouri State Highway Patrol Corporal Dustin Reed said one of the kids he took shopping came with a shopping list. He wanted to buy gifts for his family then whatever was left he would get something for himself.

North County student Ben Mosley, 12, said he picked out a robe and blanket for his mom and walkie-talkies and a little plushy for his sister and a Five Nights at Freddy’s doll, Foxy, for a girl who is his friend. Mosley got himself a slinky and a Nerf Strata-bow with the remaining money.

“Ben is a great kid, the first thing he did was he had a list when he came and he had pre-scouted Walmart,” said Reed. “He went to Walmart and looked at everything and found what he wanted and he wanted to put the needs of everybody else before him, which is a great tribute for a little guy to have, especially a growing young man.”

“Every once in a while we will see something like this, but Ben is a special kid and he wanted to do that for his family first,” said Reed. “The Shop With a Cop program, a lot of kids do that, but it is always nice and refreshing to see a young man growing up and doing that.”

Dustin Price, 11, also a North County student, was much like Mosley and spent most of his money on gifts for his family. He said the only thing in the cart he got for himself was a pair of jeans.

“I have a friend who has a dog and he doesn’t have enough food to feed the dog or anything,” said Price. “He walks his dog with a ball of yarn, so I decided to get him a collar, a leash and a dog toy.”

Walmart Store Manager Mark Westbrooks said they have been doing this for so long it’s has become a routine. The associates set it all up and they get the donuts and milk donated by vendors.

“It goes very smoothly and I am pretty pleased with everything,” said Westbrooks. “It’s a great thing to see the kids and I believe it was a record year for what they raised. That means they can provide a Christmas to a lot of kids who maybe wouldn’t have had Christmas, so that is a great thing.”

Former Shop With a Cop President Rod Harris said if it wasn’t for Walmart and the sheriff they couldn’t have the event at all.

“We really need to thank Walmart for putting up with the crowd of almost 500 kids in one morning and doing such a great job,” said Harris.

Westbrooks added there are former store associates who come back just to volunteer their time for this event and they all take a lot of pride in the program.

“They come out just to do this and volunteer their time for this,” said Westbrooks. “It really affects them and that is a good thing.”

Harris added that corporate Walmart wouldn’t have to do a thing, but they donate money each year to the program. This year Farmington Walmart donated $3,000 and the Desloge Walmart donated $1,000.

“We are the biggest program in the United States and that is something to say right here,” said Harris.

Farmington Correctional Center CERT Team and K9 unit member Justin Allgier said he was taking a little girl around who was maybe four or five years old and he name was Allegra.

“She brought me a Christmas card,” said Justin. “She asked me for my name and she borrowed my ink pen and wrote my name on the top of it. It says ‘Seasons greetings. I am wishing you a very merry Christmas and I hope you get everything you want for Christmas.’

Justin said the card had a picture of a Christmas tree and bell. “I wanted to share that with everyone. It was very thoughtful for her to do that. I have been doing this for four years and this was a first for me,” said Justin. “It was kind of neat that she thought ahead. I am going to keep this forever.”

By Renee Bronaugh, a reporter for the Daily Journal