For the 10th year in a row, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office has sponsored Kids, Cops and Christmas.
More than 200 children who were selected by their school guidance counselors had the opportunity to shop with a uniformed sheriff’s department employee for Christmas presents. The event took place Saturday morning at the Wal-Mart on County Road 466 in The Villages. And it was repeated Saturday afternoon at the Wal-Mart in Bushnell.
The children in this area were selected from The Villages Charter School, Wildwood schools and Sumter Prep Academy.
Of the more than 50 volunteers who shopped with the children, 40 were deputies. Part of the point of the program, in addition to providing presents for deserving children, is to provide them with a positive experience with law enforcement. The officers who willingly gave up their free time to participate were paired with families and they shopped together. Each child was given $50 to spend.
“This program is possible because of a very long list of individuals, and Villages groups and clubs, that have donated,” said Theresa Cooper, outreach coordinator for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. “People are so generous. We would not be able to do this without our wonderful contributors.”
Sgt. Aaron Sirolli definitely was in the holiday spirit, adding a Santa hat to his deputy uniform. One of the children he shopped with was 7-year-old Ralph Mueller, a Wildwood Elementary student. Selected families ranged from a single child to several siblings.
The Greene brothers were having a lively time shopping with Dep. Joseph Mooneyham. Isaiah, 12; Elijah, 11; and Jeremiah, 8, were all very happy with their selections.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to get when I found out we were coming,” Isaiah said, adding that he got everything that he wanted. “I got a fishing pole and a whole bunch of other fishing stuff.”
Villages Charter School fifth-grader Bree Swope and Villages High School freshman Madison Seitzler also found what they were hoping to get.
Madison, who plans to be a cartoon artist, got sketch books and art supplies. Bree wanted to spruce up her bedroom and selected a new comforter. They shopped with Dep. Blair Rutz and Rhiannon Kaufman, daughter of Sumter County Civil Clerk Maria Panzetta.
“I just thought I might be able to help Dep. Rutz with girls this age,” said Kaufman. “So, I just jumped in and it was really a lot of fun. They are great girls.”
Brothers Matthew and Mason Seitzler shopped with Dep. Holly Eckstein. Eleven-year-old Matthew, a sixth-grader at The Villages Charter School, surprised his mother with earrings.
“This is because you always care for us and work so hard,” Matthew told his mother. Hugging her son, Melissa Swope said that it was so nice to be thought of and to have her son include her while shopping for his own Christmas presents.
If you would like more information about the Kids, Cops and Christmas program, contact Cooper at the Sumter County Sheriff’s office at (352) 689-4600.