Area cops and kids go holiday shopping
About 250 beaming faces were lined up outside the Central Park Target store before dawn Saturday.
Inside, dozens of local law enforcement officers smiled just as broadly as they welcomed them in.
The Fredericksburg store opened an hour early for the 21st annual Rappahannock Area Lodge 15 Fraternal Order of Police Inc.’s Cops and Kids Project. The event was formerly known as the Richard L. Parsons Memorial Shop with a Cop Project.
J. Craig Peters, chairman of the FOP 15 trustees, said the Target store staff welcomed the crowd, which included about 134 underprivileged children accompanied by parents. Some of the children are staying in area shelters such as Thurman Brisben Center and Hope House, he said.
Target donated $4,500 and other businesses and individuals gave an additional $8,640, he said. The children were each allowed to pick out $30 worth of toys and $70 worth of clothing.
More than 50 law enforcement officers and other volunteers from the city of Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford, the Virginia State Police and various other agencies accompanied the families as they shopped for Christmas.
Students from the Chancellor High School National Honor Society wrapped small gifts many of the children picked out for family members.
Peters recalled that several years ago an 8-year-old boy came forward with a toy and asked if it could be wrapped, “so I can have something to open on Christmas morning?”
He also talked about a police officer who was so moved by the event a couple of years ago that he paid for two bicycles for children himself.
The late Richard Parsons, a retired U.S. Navy officer who worked as a magistrate in Stafford County, then as a Fredericksburg police officer, started the FOP 15 event 21 years ago, said his son, Bob Parsons, a Stafford County Sheriff’s deputy.
Parsons said the event is as satisfying for law enforcement officers as it is for the children.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Unfortunately, in today’s society, there’s a negative perception of law enforcement sometimes. The kids get to interact with law enforcement officers and see we’re real people, too.”
At the same time as the Fredericksburg event, about 60 needy children took part in the Stafford Shop with the Sheriff Spree at the Walmart on U.S. 17, said William Kennedy, spokesman for the county Sheriff’s Office.
Stafford Sheriff Charles Jett bagged the gifts for the children at the Walmart checkout counter with help from his command staff after 15 deputies walked the kids around the store, Kennedy said. Walmart served freshly baked cookies, he said, and the children were allowed to spend $75 on clothes and $25 on toys there.
Over the two-decade duration of the FOP project, about 3,600 needy children have been helped, thanks to $356,000 in donations, Peters said.
Dena Gaviglia of Salem Fields brought her 6-year-old son, Christian, to the Cops and Kids event. He picked out a remote-control toy truck, several pairs of pants and a sweat shirt.
Amanda Fennell and Delaney Crowley, both 14-year-old eighth-graders at Fredericksburg Academy, helped the families shop and said they enjoyed the experience. They helped the Gaviglias. Dena Gaviglia was so grateful she began to cry as they helped her load up a bag of clothing and toys after going through the checkout line.
Crowley also teared up and said Dena Gaviglia “is great” and doesn’t deserve the difficult circumstances she faces. Gavaiglia said she’s a single mom with a medical problem.
Hartwood resident John Tolson, a 30-year-old waterman there with his 9-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, and his wife, Amy Tolson, 26, said the event is “a good thing, with the economy being as tight as it is.”
“It rewards the children for being good,” he added.
Peters said the volunteers benefit, too. “It’s good to be able to touch somebody’s life in a positive way.”
Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163