Bridgette Fuentes juggled baby Abram in her arms while examining clothes on hangers Tuesday in Walmart until Payson Police Det. Jason Hazelo offered to carry him.
“Whatever you need for the kids that’s what we encourage,” Hazelo told Bridgette.
This year’s Public Safety Christmas for Kids has offered each of 480 kids the chance to grab $35 worth of gifts from Walmart. Last year, 504 kids received gifts through the program.
“We still have a good week before Christmas,” said Payson Police Det. Matt Van Camp. “I’m going to get calls from families, ‘I didn’t get signed up. Can you help?’”
Van Camp predicted that this year’s numbers will match last year’s after all the kids are counted.
The economy could be forcing some families to move, which would account for the lower number of applicants, Van Camp said.
Donations are down, too. While roughly $18,000 has filtered in through various donations and fund-raisers throughout the year including Tamales for Toys, a golf tournament and Fourth of July food sales, Van Camp said last year’s fund-raising brought in an extra $10,000.
But people are still giving and the line was long Tuesday as families waited with shopping carts and kids.
Children are encouraged to buy a $5 or $10 toy and use the remaining money toward items like jackets or jeans, Hazelo said.
Four-year-old Christian Abla, however, had a penchant for superheroes. He and his sister, Eliza, 6, wandered around a toy aisle with Payson Police Det. Les Barr and their dad, also named Christian.
Papa Christian lifted Eliza into the front seat of the shopping cart. “You’re a baby,” he told her.
“I’m not a baby,” she replied.
“You’re my baby, no?” Christian asked. Eliza smiled and the Ablas continued to roll around Walmart, content that this year they would have toys.
The event is organized by Rim Country public service agencies including the Payson police and fire departments, the Gila County sheriff and attorneys offices, the Northern Gila County Firefighters Association, and the Department of Public Safety.