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Walmart gives less fortunate Manatee County children early Christmas

PALMETTO -- When his mother woke him up Wednesday morning and said he was going Christmas shopping with police officers at Walmart, 11-year-old Jorge Morales thought he was still dreaming.

“I was, like, happy,” a smiling Jorge said near the toy section of the Walmart in Palmetto.

Up until 8:15 a.m., his mother had kept his shopping spree with Palmetto police a secret. She had recently told her son she couldn’t buy him presents this Christmas.

Jorge was among the 30 Palmetto children who were part of the Honor the Badge Christmas shopping event, organized by Palmetto police, Church on the Rock and the WalMart in Palmetto.

The kids were accompanied by officers and church members as they embarked on their shopping sprees Wednesday morning.

Before the kids went into the store, Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells told them, “You buy toys and toys only.” Each kid was able to spend up to $50.

Wells said Palmetto police reached out to organizations in the Palmetto community that work with underprivileged families to find children for the event.

Officer Micah Mathews and his mother, the pastor’s wife, Ruth Mathews, helped brothers Joel Munoz, 6, and Ivan Munoz, 4, shop for toys.

When asked which toy was his favorite Christmas gift, Joel pointed at a Transformers Optimus Prime toy.

His little brother, Ivan, was all smiles as he pointed to toys he wanted from the shelves. Among his choices: a fire truck and a bulldozer.

Cecilia Ramirez, their mom, smiled as her two boys admired their new toys.

“They’re cheered up,” Ramirez said. “They’re happy.”

Jorge was one of the first shoppers to check out of the store.

Among his toys: a basketball hoop and a Bop It! game.

“I feel good,” Jorge said. His grand total: $48 and some change. He had enough left over to buy a 3 Musketeers chocolate bar.

As kids left the store with bags full of presents, Santa Claus stood at the end of the cash register. He gave them Christmas stockings filled with candy canes, juice bags, apples and other goodies.

Palmetto police spokesman Lt. Scott Tyler said some kids try to shop for their loved ones instead of themselves.

At the store’s makeup section, Geneira Jaines, 9, and Georgina Castro, 12, stared wide-eyed at the makeup kits. Church on the Rock youth Pastor Shelly Riker and Sgt. Duane Kauffman reminded them that today was their special day.

But “not many kids think about other people,” Kauffman said. “It’s usually all about them.”

Riker said that when she began shopping with the girls, Geneira told her, “I want to spend my money wisely.”

In the arts and crafts section, Geneira darted up and down the aisle, tossing paint brushes and a drawing pad into a shopping cart.

“I love it,” Riker said. “I love being able to do this for these kids.”

Georgina headed back to the makeup section, but said the cosmetics she would buy were for her. She chose a large make-up kit, complete with different shades of eye shadow and nail polish.

“She is going to be a makeup queen,” Riker said.

Tyler said about $1,500 was donated to the event. Church on the Rock, Walmart and several officers pitched in.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Tyler said. “I think it’s just something we look forward to every year.”