CUMMING — Diego Ramirez couldn’t decide between two toy cars.
When the Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy said he could have both, his face lit up like a Christmas tree the presents would normally sit under.
He ran around the shopping cart, jumping up and down with both toys in hand.
Christmas came early in the Walmart toy aisle Wednesday night, and Santa exchanged his red robe for a deputy’s uniform.
The 4-year-old Ramirez and his three older siblings were among 198 children who participated in the annual Cops and Kids Program at the Cumming retailer, making it the most inclusive year since its 1997 inception.
The shopping spree, organized by the Sgt. D.P. Land Memorial Lodge No. 82 of the Fraternal Order of Police, pairs underprivileged children with a deputy dressed in his or her uniform. The deputy takes an entire family and spends up to $100 on each child.
Here’s the best part: The kids get to pick out whatever they want. With some exclusions, of course. They can’t take home any explicit content or toy weapons.
Lodge Secretary Adam Campbell of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said officers from the cities of Brookhaven, Cumming, Milton and Sandy Springs, as well as Forsyth, Gwinnett and Hall counties and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are represented in the FOP lodge.
“It’s a lot of different agencies coming together to support the children,” Campbell said. “For some kids, this is the only opportunity they see law enforcement in a positive light.”
The lodge works with Forsyth County school system social workers to determine what children are in the most need, he said, giving some “the only Christmas they’re going to have.” The event has served about 3,300 children ages 3-14 over the years.
Funds are raised throughout the year by both private and corporate sponsors, said Chris Shelton, the lodge’s president.
He added that Walmart always seems to staff extra employees in the bike area for the event. This year, however, the top items seemed to be all toys and clothes.
Esmeralda Ramirez walked between the boys’ and girls’ sections with son Diego and her four other children. Her 1-year-old was too young to participate.
“I suggest things for them, but in the end they just pick out whatever they want,” she said. “They don’t get that that often.”
Forsyth Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Kingsley said he has shopped every year. His teenage son even comes along to help out when he can.
Diego Ramirez couldn’t wait until it came out of the package to play with his new toy, pushing the sound-making buttons throughout the store.
“This is why I do this,” said Kingsley as he guided a shopping cart packed to the brim with toys, clothes and shoes. “His face.”