Tuesday night was the second time Carmen Camacho stood in line with what she calls her “miracle babies” outside the Toys R Us with her two children anxiously waiting to be allowed in the toy store for the start of the annual Honoring the Badge event.
Six-year-old Arianna and 4-year-old Josiah are her miracles. After being told she could not have children, Camacho adopted Arianna when she was just 2 months old. Nearly two years later, she found out she was was pregnant with Josiah. But as a working single mother of two, it’s not always easy for Camacho to make ends meet, much less have money left over around the holidays. Tuesday night, they were able to hand pick their Christmas presents.
They stood in the same line in 2014, after Camacho heard about the Honoring the Badge event through her children’s day care.
This year, Honoring the Badge made what Pastor Don Sturiano, Bradenton Police Department chaplain and senior pastor at Kingdom Life Christian Church, called historic numbers, providing more than 200 children with gifts. Dozens of families took pictures with Santa outside before making a bee-line through the doors to the toy store.
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It’s the eighth year for the event, co-sponsored by the police department and the Kingdom Life Christian Church. Nearly 50 officers, Explorers, volunteers and representatives of the State Attorney’s Office also lined the entrance to Toys R Us to help the children pick out their gifts.
“Children in need may not get any presents without this program,” Sturiano said.
Families are encouraged to participate in the program and can be invited by community leaders or officers that may know of families in need.
He noted one of the most rewarding parts of the night is getting to see the excitement on the children’s faces, but that’s not where the benefits end.
“There’s so many things that’s after the fact. We’ve been doing this for eight years, so our officers have built wonderful relationships with not only the children, but the families in some pretty tough areas and communities, and we’ve seen that effect the overall community life in a very positive way,” Sturiano said.
Arianna and Josiah’s eyes, wide with excitement, darted from item to item along the shelves. Baseball bats, a slide, Paw Patrol and Shopkins items all caught their attention as they carefully selected toys and dropped them into the cart. Meanwhile, hundreds of other children ran through the aisles testing different toys and excitedly pointing out their newest wish list items.
The Camacho family of three was paired up and escorted through the store by Michael Biddle, assistant state attorney, and the four of them wandered the store for nearly 45 minutes in search of the perfect presents. While the Camacho family has been through the routine before, it was Biddle’s first Honoring the Badge event in his new role with the State Attorney’s Office.
“I thought tonight was a tremendous opportunity to get in touch with the community. I just started at the State Attorney’s Office as an assistant state attorney, so I’m not too familiar with this area. This was as much of an opportunity to get to know fellow citizens and community members as it was for these kids to grab toys. I enjoyed it as much as they did,” Biddle said.
Arianna selected several Shopkins sets while Josiah took home two Paw Patrol toys. The deal was sweetened when their mother gave them a quarter for the candy machine before they left.
Though they went a bit over the $25 dollar per child limit, Biddle was glad to cover the cost, and it’s not an unusual sight to see.
This year was “awesome” and “more organized” than their first year, Camacho said, and still takes away some of the stress the holiday season brings. When asked how much this helps, she repeated “it’s great.”