MOUNDSVILLE - There are children throughout the Ohio Valley whose families cannot afford to buy them presents for Christmas this year.
To help them, local law enforcement officials are stepping forward to give children in need a chance to shop for Christmas presents.
Moundsville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 75 uses a program called "Kids, Cops, and Christmas" through which "participating children with a guardian meet with members of the Moundsville Police Department at the Moundsville Wal-Mart and go Christmas shopping for themselves."
Members of Moundsville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 75 take local children on a Christmas shopping trip at the Moundsville Wal-Mart last year, with Santa Claus as the guest of honor.
The children, chosen by teachers according to need in grades K-2, are given equal amounts of money and allowed to shop around the store with the blessing and protection of police volunteers. The Moundsville Wal-Mart also donates food to provide the children with breakfast.
"This has been going on for about 22 years now," said police Lt. Jeff Murray.
In order to keep the program community oriented, Lodge 75 has taken it upon themselves to do everything, from fundraising to coordination, on their own.
"It's all generated by the police department," Murray said. "There are no outside companies used."
In past years, according to police Sgt. Steve Kosek, Santa Claus himself has joined the ranks of the policemen to bring the magic of the holidays to the event.
Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson said his department also takes local children on a similar shopping spree each year.
"Every year we take them to Wal-Mart (St. Clairsville) on a weekend before Christmas," Thompson said. "We take them to breakfast at the restaurant in the store, and then deputies go with the child and family to shop. We usually spend $100- $150 on each one."
The St. Clairsville FOP Auxiliary Lodge 13 lends a hand each year by taking up a collection to be donated to selected charities.
"We try to get the public to bring toys to the St. Clairsville Christmas Parade," said Lodge 13 Vice President Tim Wilson. His organization also accepts cash, which is also given to the charitable organization of choice. "This year, we're working with the St. Clairsville Council of Churches and the Salvation Army."
Wheeling Fraternity of Police Lodge 38 is expecting a larger turnout than usual for its "Shop With a Cop" program this year, according to Sgt. Tom Howard.
"There are usually about 100 kids," said Howard. "This year, there' s going to be 200."
Like their Moundsville counterparts, members of Lodge 38 work with the county schools to select the children to be taken on the shopping spree. He emphasized that while there are some fundraising efforts for the program, most of the funds come from the lodge's own coffers.
"We try to do about $100 per child," Howard said. "We should be pretty close."
He said that this is his fourth time with the program, but that the lodge has been doing it for several years. In fact, he said Lodge 38 used to take children to Wal-Mart in St. Clairsville before there was a location on Cabela Drive in Triadelphia.
"We try to do this each year, and we'll probably keep doing it in years to come," said Howard.