Six-year-old Kurt Slover’s eyes grow wider as he traces his hand along the back toy wall at Walmart Wednesday night.
“Ohh I want this,” he says and drops a Scrabble game into a shopping basket pushed by Officer Bryan Watson.
“Oh this is cool,” Slover continues, dropping a Mastermind board game into the cart.
It’s only been a few minutes since Slover and Watson met at the annual Public Safety Christmas for Kids shopping trip, and Slover already has the bottom of the cart covered with colorful toy boxes.
Clover merrily continues down the aisle dropping a puzzle in and then takes off in a new direction, Watson trailing behind.
This year’s Public Safety Christmas for Kids offered 266 kids from 115 families the chance to grab more than $50 worth of gifts from Walmart. Last year, 150 children shopped through the program.
“Our volunteers raise money all year long to come together and shop at the end of the year with the kids,” said Chief Deputy Gila County Attorney Patti Wortman. “We really appreciate the support of our community which allows us to help so many children.”
Roughly $15,000 was collected by firefighters and officers through various donation drives and fund-raisers throughout the year including Tamales for Toys, a golf tournament and Fourth of July food sales.
Amber Digeno shopped with her three children along with Payson firefighter Julie Swanson. Digeno said after going through a divorce and her ex refusing to pay child support, she has no way to purchase Christmas toys. When her mother told her about the Christmas for Kids program, she signed up.
“It would have been impossible to buy anything,” she said. “This is definitely a blessing.”
A few aisles over, Payson Fire Chief Marty de Masi shopped with Liam and Damion Lidster.
deMasi said it is a great feeling to help children in need.
“This is the big pay off. They are having great fun and they get stuff they need. It is hard to see, but some of these families are really hurting.”
The Lidster boys seemed unaware of any problems their parents might be facing as they wandered through the toy aisles in awe of all the possibilities.
Payson Police Sgt. Jason Hazelo shopped with Lidia Romero and her four children. Diego Jose, 5, walked proudly with his new bicycle while his sister Jhanet Salasar, 9, showed off an art kit and Sorry board game she had picked out.
Salasar said she didn’t know if her mother would make her wait until Christmas to open her new toys, but she hoped not.
The only restrictions organizers placed on what children could buy were on toy guns and cell phones.
If a family desperately needed to buy clothing with the money and could not afford toys, they were sent over to the Santa Shop at Bashas’ where volunteers gave away donated toys.
Christmas for Kids is organized by Rim Country public service agencies including the Payson police and fire departments, the Gila County sheriff’s and attorney’s offices, the Northern Gila County Firefighters Association, and the Department of Public Safety.