BY SARAH R. GREGORY
Hundreds of local children will receive Christmas gifts this year, thanks to the Greene County Law Enforcement Association's "Shop With A Cop" program, now in its 20th year.
Every year, local law enforcement personnel raise funds to take hundreds of children through the aisles to select toys or other items from Wal-Mart.
Saturday, nearly 350 children and their families benefited from the program, according to retired Greeneville Police Department Detective Stewart Kilgore, who organizes the annual event.
Officers from the Greeneville Police Department, Greene County Sheriff's Department, Tusculum Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and constables escort kids and their guardians through the store to select $50 in merchandise, tax-free.
Wal-Mart associates and members of local churches also join the officers in escorting kids around the store.
Banks and other businesses make contributions, and some have employees request to join the shopping trip, Kilgore said.
It's all done to ensure that disadvantaged children and their families have presents to enjoy on Christmas day.
This year more than 400 children were registered to participate.
When the program began, it served 67 children in its first year.
After shopping for their Christmas gifts, children and their families enjoyed a meal at Pizza Inn.
Kilgore said a total of 467 people were fed during lunch Saturday.
Participants are given a ticket to redeem for lunch when they go through a specially designated cashier line during the Shop With A Cop event.
"God has been good to us," Kilgore said, noting that donations from the community to support the program this year totaled over $35,000.
With economic conditions slow to improve and many in the Horse Creek and Camp Creek areas still trying to recover from deadly tornados of 2011, the need is greater than ever, Kilgore said.
Most Shop With a Cop participants are referred by their schools, churches or civic groups before the event.
However, Kilgore said, there have been times when local teachers have contacted him after Christmas break when they learn of a student who did not receive any Christmas gifts at all.
If there are any funds remaining, he said, the organization reaches out to those families in an effort to provide a gift.
This year, Kilgore said, many people have indicated a need for clothing.
In addition to $50 for gifts, children can also receive winter coats during the Shop With A Cop event to help keep them warm in the cold months ahead.
Kilgore said that the organization will try to host two more smaller Shop With A Cop events before Christmas day.
Anyone wishing to make a donation in support of the program can contact Kilgore at 972-2613, Jean Kilgore at 639-3310 or drop off a check or money order payable to "Shop With A Cop" at the Greeneville Police Department.