Officers help kids hunt toys during Honor the Badge

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 19, 2012 

BRADENTON -- A woman shopping in Toys "R" Us at 512 Cortez Road Tuesday night looked around and asked no one in particular, "Why are all the Bradenton Police here?"

She didn't know that one night a year, just before Christmas, roughly 20 uniformed officers from Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski's crew come to shop with needy kids for toys during Honor the Badge.

"Usually, when kids see the police, something bad has happened," said Radzilowski, who was at the store in uniform along with his men and women. "But tonight, something good happens."

During Tuesday's fifth annual event, about 200 children each got a $25 Toys "R" Us gift certificate from an officer who accompanied them around the store.

The event was created by Kingdom Life Christian

Church, which seeks out needy kids from Washington Park, Holiday Heights and other Bradenton neighborhoods.

The pastor of Kingdom Life Christian Church, the Rev. Don Sturiano, is also the chaplain of the Bradenton Police Department.

Many of the officers come on their day off, Radzilowski said.

At 6 p.m., Sturiano announced through a bullhorn, "Who is ready to go Christmas shopping?"

There were gleeful shouts.

One of the first families to come into the store was Doretha Johnson and her grandchildren, Mya Welch, 9, and Michael Welch, 11.

"I remember Mya and Michael from five years ago when we started Honor the Badge," Sturiano said.

Mya and Michael, who have attended all five years, were teamed with Officer Phillip Waller this year.

Waller had his calculator working.

"Here's a football for $13 so you can get that and something else," Waller told Michael.

Mya settled quickly on dolls, specifically a Moxie Gurlz Prince and Princess set.

Seeing the burly Waller holding dolls made Toys "R" Us customer Jason Sirmans of Jacobsen Homes grin warmly.

"I think this is great," Sirmans said. "Look at the smiles on their faces. I want to see every child have a Christmas."

Single mom Lisa Oliver and her sons, Chris, 11, and Jayden, 9, shopped with Master Patrol Officer Tony Cerniglia. Officer Tony and the boys hit it off right away.

Cerniglia loves video games. So do the boys.

"I play "Call of Duty: Black Ops," Cerniglia said.

"I play that, too," Chris said.

Chris selected two Halo Lego sets which were $14.99 each, but mom agreed to make up the difference.

Little Jayden thought and thought about what he wanted.

He knew his grandmother, Alleane Griffin, a longtime employee of Easter Seals, would want to see his choice.

"He's a thinker," Oliver said. "He knows what he wants."

Jayden thought about his older brother, Karnell, 17, whom he loves and looks up to.

Jayden knew Karnell would like the game, "Prototype 2."

"It's mature," Cerniglia told Oliver.

"It's OK," said Oliver, who agreed to get the $39 game and make up the difference.

Waiting in the check-out line with the beaming and chatty officers, Oliver and her boys seemed happy and peaceful.

"I will always remember the smiles on all of them," Oliver said of the officers.

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