Brothers Davey, DeAndre and Demetrius Fritz were bouncing around the Ceres Walmart like ping-pong balls Wednesday evening while their grandmother, Barbara Bridges, was busy making the $500 offered to the family as part of the fourth annual "Shop With a Cop" event stretch the farthest. The boys, who are 4, 6 and 9 and rarely go shopping, had trouble resisting picking up things not on the shopping list, mugging in hand-held mirrors.
"This is really exciting and really overwhelming at the same time," said Bridges, whose husband was pushing the cart. She said the boys weren't going to have much of a Christmas "considering that we're losing our home, yeah."
As she headed to buy towels, silverware and drinking glasses, she explained that her landlord is kicking the family out because she also took in a homeless daughter with four kids.
"I had seven kids in a two-bedroom house and the landlord did not like that so he has asked us to move," said Barbara. "I'll find something. I'm a strong woman - I've got this."
Barbara and Scott Bridges wound up caring for the boys because their father has been abusive and the county took the boys away from their mother.
"I just kind of stepped in and took them because mother's doing her own thing. What other place are they going to be besides grandma? And I've actually had them since they were born."
Ceres Police Department Sgt. Trenton Johnson was doing his best to corral the rambunctious boys while a Walmart store employee kept a running total on Bridges' purchases.
"Last year it was the same thing," said Johnson, of the push to buy necessities rather than all toys.
In the case of the Bridges, they did buy toys and tablets for the children.
Sixteen underprivileged families from Ceres were treated to a $500 holiday gift buying visit to the Walmart store. Last year only 10 were given the opportunity. Cost Less Foods also donated a box of food to each family.
"We have our staff nominate a community member," said Jennifer Rangel of the Ceres Partnership. "CUSD they all send families and we kind of just go by need."
"This is a Ceres community event, we're just hosting it," said Walmart store manager Mary Lopez.
But instead of making a bee line to the toy aisles, most parents focused on clothing and other household necessities.
"They'll go for diapers," said Rangel. "They're going to go for hygiene items - stuff that is a need."
Walmart and other businesses helped underwrite the gift buying opportunity.
The experience began when families - identify as being needy by the Ceres Unified School District and Ceres Partnership - linked up with one of about 20 officers lined up inside the entry point of the store. The families were treated to a free meal at the McDonald's restaurant inside the store before shopping. A Walmart employee and two officers were assigned to help out and in some cases keep track of the purchase total.
Chuck Rushing, one of Ceres Police Department's newest officers, assisted the family of Rachel Lovera in shopping.
"They're having fun," said Rushing. "I love it. I think it's great. It's a good way to connect with the community, especially with the way everything's going on right on. It put faiths back into law enforcement, and the fact that we're not all out to get people."
The Shop with a Cop event is different from the department's Beards for Kids Toy Drive, which is designed to bring awareness to children from poor families. The drive is to collect toys which will be given out in neighborhoods this Saturday by Santa riding around in the Ceres Police SWAT vehicle, said Sgt. Jason Coley.
"Our goal is to make sure every child in Ceres gets a present," said Sgt. Coley. "We couldn't have done all these families without the donations of businesses. We put out a challenge after Walmart donated what they did."
The first Shop With a Cop event was held in 2012 involved officers taking gifts to homes of needy families, said Coley.
Ceres City Manager Toby Wells recognized Walmart for donating 30 bikes - which were returns at the store - to be given away to needy families this Christmas. Because they were in need of various repairs, several Ceres Police officers came in before and stayed after work to do repairs on the bikes.
"It's something that's just a testament to the type of employees that we have and it's something that makes me proud to work for the city," said Wells. "Those guys went above and beyond. They'll never ask for credit; it's just not the way they are."