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Santa’s police shoppers sweep the toy shelves (with photo gallery)

EAST MANATEE -- In less than an hour, volunteer shoppers spent more than $5,000 on gifts for the Santa Cop 25th Annual Holiday Toy Drive.

Helping Manatee Lodge 70 of the Fraternal Order of Police on Saturday at Bealls Department Store, 7365 52nd Place East, were the Gulf Coast Corvette Club and the Mustang Club of West Central Florida. Members not only helped with the shopping, they brought along more than 120 classic, collectible cars.

With the marriage of shopping and cars for Santa Cop, someone said, “ladies, get your carts,” and one of the shoppers concluded the thought with “rather than start your engines.”

Ken Dodd, treasurer for the Fraternal Order of Police, was hopeful that before the day was out, toy drive shoppers would spend $10,000. The money goes a long way with the steeply discounted prices Bealls provided, he said.

The toys will go to Toys for Tots, to Childrens Services and others.

“We have had folks searching the community for deserving children. No child should go without on Christmas morning,” Dodd said.

Daniel J. Boyle, senior vice president of Bealls, said, “How can you not get a smile on your face when you see all these toys going to kids?”

Store manager Charlene Pursell said Santa Cop shows “the spirit of the season.” The down economy has affected everyone, but in this holiday season, children should still get their gifts, she said.

One of those shoppers was Linda Volina of the Gulf Coast Corvette Club, who had already baked brownies and made a pasta dinner before 7 a.m., and was heading to Robinson Preserve in the afternoon to do Christmas decorating.

In 2009, the Santa Cop program distributed more than 8,000 toys to families and community organizations, said Capt. Robert Williams of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and president of Manatee Lodge 70, who helped carry bundles of toys to waiting trucks outside.