VALDOSTA — Jayda Brown, 13, is an honor roll student who loves reading and hasn't missed a day of school in five years.
She said she was surprised learning her school nominated her to participate in the 13th Annual Shop With A Cop at Walmart. Also a surprise, the Valdosta Police Department made a special exception for Jayda, who is two years older than the cut-off date. Moody Air Force Base participated in the event, as well.
On Monday, Jayda and her mother, Alice, wandered the toy section with Airman Jesse Lowe with $200 to spend. Jayda bought a few DVDs, a basketball and a tablet to download as many books as she wants.
"That's all she does is read," the mother said of her daughter. "She doesn't go anywhere without a book."
Shop With A Cop is an annual event put on by the VPD. Officer Randall Hancock was the event coordinator for the first time this year. He said it was the most successful year yet.
"We raised more money this year than any previous year," Hancock said. "We also had more kids participate. We had 40 children each with $200 to spend. The next best year was 30 children."
Hancock said the department couldn't hold the event without the support of the Valdosta community. People donated $15,000 toward providing needy and deserving children in Valdosta and Lowndes County a happy holiday.
Police officers, principals, teachers and counselors recommend children to the VPD. Once it had the list of children and the donations, VPD divided the money and took the children and their families to Walmart on Inner Perimeter Road.
Although this was the best year for Shop With A Cop, Hancock said he would like to see more vendors participate in the event next year. For this year, Kona Ice of Lowndes parked out front of Walmart providing free shaved ice for participating families, and Pizza Hut delivered free pizza for the event.
"I hope that next year we can have an even better showing from the vendors. It really helps," Hancock said.
Hancock said he remembers when he was the cop escorting children around as they picked out different things to buy. The most memorable time was when he had one kid spend all his money on school clothes instead of on toys.
"I take him in. We get his gift card, and we start heading to the toy section, because that's where they usually want to go first," Hancock said. "He said 'Officer, I don't need toys. I need school clothes.' Isn't that just awesome. Of course, I ended up spending a lot of my own money buying him toys."
He said it is common for the cops to get swept up by the holiday spirit and go over the spending limit. It's no problem, however.
"I guarantee you that every single officer is reaching in their pocket to spend a little extra on these kids," Hancock said. "It happens every year."
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256