An 8-year-old Seymour girl patiently walked up and down the toy aisle at Walmart Supercenter on Saturday morning on the city’s east side.
Kaydee Ruddick’s shopping cart was pretty bare 20 minutes into the shopping spree as she was trying to determine exactly what she wanted for Christmas this year.
Ruddick was one of 65 children — including her six-year-old brother Hunter Taylor — to participate in the Cops and Kids program, organized by the Donald M. Winn Lodge 108 of the Fraternal Order of Police. The program saw each child receive $100 to pick what they wanted for Christmas.
“I like these dolls, but I think I have two of them at home,” she said, scanning the shelves of toys. “Maybe I should get them a dress.”
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The two children live with their grandmother, Robin Hanlon of Seymour, and have since April of this year. Hanlon said without the program, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do for Christmas.
“These kids wouldn’t have had much of a Christmas without this program,” said Hanlon, who heard about Cops and Kids through a friend. She applied for her grandchildren and was accepted.
This is the first year they have participated, she said.
“This has been a godsend for us because they may have had a few small things, but nothing that would have made Christmas for them Christmas, and Christmas is about kids,” she said. “And I’m just excited that they get to do this, and I’m not sure what they’re going to get, but as long as they’re happy that’s all that matters.”
Officer Dustin Steward with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department assisted Ruddick and Taylor on their shopping trip.
He and other officers from that department along with Seymour and Brownstown police departments and Jack Schrader with the American Legion in Seymour took time out of their Saturday mornings to help kids and their families shop for Christmas gifts.
To be eligible, families submitted a letter with the name and age of the child and a brief description of the family situation.
Hanlon said the year has taken an emotional and financial toll on her and the kids this year.
“This year I was worried about what Christmas was going to be like because we are hurting bad this year,” she said. “Then I wrote this program, and I’m just thankful because Christmas would have been kind of depressing for me to watch those kids not open much on Christmas morning.”
The program has been a part of the community’s holiday season for a number of years, but this year it took a big hit as a grant that had supported the program in the past was not available.
“Depending on the year and how much is available, we lost somewhere between $3,500 to maybe $5,000 after losing that grant,” said C.J. Foster, a detective sergeant with Seymour Police Department.
As lodge president, Foster organizes the effort each year. He said the program costs somewhere between $6,500 and $8,000 to operate.
So that meant the lodge had its work cut out to help make up the difference to help keep the program going. Foster said social media was very helpful in helping raise the needed funds this fall.
“We put it out over social media and Facebook and had an overwhelming response from individuals and businesses throughout Jackson County,” he said. “They were really generous in coming forth with donations.”
Foster said he was concerned about the program when they lost the grant money.
“We just thought about how we were going to have to work hard at it and we did,” he said.
Hanlon said she did not know the program lost its grant and said she was very thankful local law enforcement worked to make sure the program continued.
“I’m so glad they didn’t give up,” she said after learning about the police’s efforts to raise the money. “That’s just wonderful.”
By the time Ruddick and Taylor filled their carts with what they wanted, they had amassed a great Christmas by their standards.
“I’m not picky, she’s picky,” he said, pointing to Ruddick as he looked at both of their carts. Taylor selected a Hot Wheels car play set, a movie, Star Wars Legos and a mini pinball machine.
Ruddick’s cart started to fill up a little more as she made her way to the clothing aisle.
Steward said shopping for girls clothing was not his expertise, so he enlisted the help of his own daughter 7-year-old daughter, Kaylee Steward, to help Ruddick find what she wanted.
“I’m going to stand here at the cart for a moment while you guys look at these dresses,” Steward said with a laugh.
Steward has participated in the program for the last few years and said he enjoys helping in anyway he can.
“I have only done this the last few years, but now I’m not going to miss a year,” he said.
“I think this is an excellent program, and I really enjoy walking the kids around, watching them pick things out. I think it’s awesome.”
For Hanlon, the police officers saved Christmas for her grandchildren.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to them because they really made Christmas happen for us this year,” she said. “Think about all the Christmases they made this morning.”