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49 children ‘Shop with a Cop’
• Annual shopping excursion staged at Ceres Walmart
Vince Hooper
Ceres Police Sgt. Vince Hooper and looks at the face of Jayden light up at a toy at Walmart during the Shop with a Cop event last week. Jaden’s mom, Maria Caracheo, and Walmart employee Jordan Sanchez participated in the shopping trip. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Siblings Jaden, Joshua, Cesar, Kiana and Camila were beaming at the Ceres Walmart Tuesday evening, Dec. 17 while their mother Maria Caracheo was busy making the $200 per child as part of the seventh annual “Shop With a Cop” event stretch the farthest.

They were among the 12 underprivileged families with 49 children from Ceres treated to a holiday gift buying visit to the Walmart store. Last year families were given only $500 to shop but this year the amount was allocated by $200 per child. Cost Less Foods also donated gift cards for food for each family.

The $1,000 that Maria got to spend on her children for the holidays came at a needy time.

“We just moved from Laguna Hills in Orange County,” explained Maria, who said high rents drove to move in with family until they recently found a house. “It’s really hard for us right now. We start looking for a job.”

Instead of making a bee line to the toy aisles, most parents focused on clothing and other household necessities.

Yotsuya said it’s typical that families who don’t ordinarily get to shop focus first on needs like shoes and clothing before toys.

“I’ve seen it year after year,” said Sgt. Yotsuya. “They don’t go to the toys. They don’t go to the electronics. They go to clothing. They go to baby formula – that kind of stuff.”

Walmart and other businesses like Walmart and Cost Less Foods helped underwrite the gift buying opportunity for families selected by the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children.

The experience began when families – identify as being needy by the Ceres Unified School District and Ceres Partnership – linked up with one of a whole army of off-duty officers in uniform lined up inside the entry point of the store. The families were treated to a free meal at the McDonald’s inside the store before shopping. Grapointner Management Inc., owner of the Ceres McDonald’s franchise, also donated $1,000 to the shopping effort, said Sgt. Greg Yotsuya. A Walmart employee and officers were assigned to help out and in some cases keep track of the purchase total.

Also waiting was Chuck Pederson who played Santa for the occasion. The former San Joaquin County high school teacher and husband of Marcy Pederson, administrative secretary to the Police Chief, said he has enjoyed playing Santa over past seven or eight years.

Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins was enjoying watching the shopping unfold as children and their parents were picking out items.

“What was so revealing is that you think Christmas and toys but they were buying clothes and necessities and that's how you know you're reaching a needy family,” said Collins.

The first Shop with a Cop event was held in 2012 involved officers taking gifts to homes of needy families.

Sgt. Yotsuya said that while each officer was acting as a volunteer, the Ceres Police Officers Association is “lucky enough to have an administration that allows us to use our uniforms, use our vehicles.”