BRADENTON -- A bit of Christmas came early for 150 children and their families tonight thanks to the Bradenton Police Department and a local church.
Approximately 40 officers and detectives from BPD, along with volunteers from Kingdom Life Christian Church took part in the 6 p.m. event called Honoring the Badge at Toys “R” Us on Cortez Road.
The Rev. Don Sturiano, who is not only the pastor at Kingdom Life but also the chaplain at BPD, got the idea in 2008 to raise money at his church for Toys “R” Us gift cards for 100 needy children in Bradenton’s Washington Park.
Through the efforts of Washington Park resident Joanne Spencer, a list was compiled, Sturiano said.
This year, the list included 50 children from the Ninth Street area, Sturiano added.
What gives the program a special feel is that police personnel line up just inside the door to the toy store and, one by one, pair up with the kids and their families for a shopping spree amid gleaming new packages of toys.
Each child gets a $25 gift certificate, part of the roughly $4,000 contributed by church members above and beyond their normal church donations.
“It means a lot to me to see kids getting toys for Christmas,” said Doretha Johnson, grandmother of Michael Welch, 10, and his sister, Mya Welch, 8, who have been participants for four years.
It’s also fun for the officers, like Carl Jones, who has two boys but was hunting dolls for Hilda Garcia’s girls, including Nagelly, 5 and Esmeralda, 6.
“This is new for me,” Jones said.
The purpose of the program is not only to get toys to kids, but also to show kids that police are not their enemy, Sturiano said.
“Hopefully we are planting a seed in each child that will bloom when they are faced with choices in the future,” Sturiano added.
Kingdom Life Christian Church is located across the street from Turner Donuts in downtown Bradenton.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.