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Area law enforcement officers spread holiday spirit
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Nine off-duty law enforcement officers and 27 Great Bend youth took part in the annual Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #23 holiday shopping spree at Walmart Saturday afternoon. - photo by VERONICA COONS, Great Bend Tribune

Everyone looks forward to a day off, especially on an unseasonably warm Saturday in December. While many were home, watching football, catching up on outdoor projects, or simply taking a nap, nine off-duty law enforcement officers from all over Barton County did their best to make sure a few dozen Great Bend kids had a memorable holiday season.

Meeting up at Gambino’s, the officers and kids got to know each other over pizza, and by the time lunch was over, many of the kids had bonded with the men and women in blue and were ready to head to Walmart for the second half of the party.

One Walmart employee handed out chocolate to the kids as another took photos. Checking in at the front of the store, Sgt. Jay Bachar of the Great Bend Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #23, laid down the ground rules.

“Everyone is going to be assigned to one of the officers up here,” he said. “You stay with that officer. They will have your gift card. You have a $30 limit. If you have any questions, ask your officer. Do not leave your officer or your group. Your parents would be mad if we lost you.”

Barton County Sheriff's Deputy Lucas Herl was assigned three children, Michaela, Norma and Blain. Herl grabbed a shopping cart and the group headed over to the toy section of the department store. Blade was quickly drawn to superhero action figures and toy cars. Meanwhile, Michaela and browsed, choosing items briefly, asking their costs, and then putting them back. Herl patiently answered questions, helped the children keep track of prices, and still managed to keep an eye on all three kids as they rushed from aisle to aisle, becoming increasingly sticky from candy and excited by the prospect of new toys.

Once Blain finally made up his mind, the girls were ready to broaden their search. Michaela led the way to the makeup department where she considered a variety of lip balms for ‘tweens. With each item, she counted back her $30 budget, excitement growing until finally, her pile of colorful goodies hit the limit.

Norma chose colored papers, markers, a calendar and lip gloss, enjoying the process of shopping more than buying. After about a half and hour, the three were decided on their purchases and Herl led them to the cash registers.

As the transactions were finalized, children gathered at the front of the store to wait for their parents. They gathered in groups on the floor to examine their gifts and show their friends what they chose.

The children thanked the officers, and as their parents and grandparents arrived to take them home, there were many “Merry Christmases” offered. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day off.