EAST MARLBOROUGH — There were plenty of smiles Saturday as about 75 children, many of whom have a family member in prison, shopped for Christmas presents at the Walmart in East Marlborough, accompanied by a law enforcement officer.

It was all part of the sixth annual Shop With the Sheriff, an event that was organized by Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, Deputy Harry McKinney and officers from the Sheriff’s Department for students in grades kindergarten through second grade from the Chester County Family Academy. All of the student come from families experiencing extreme financial need.

“It’s all about the children and their connection with the community and law enforcement,” said Welsh, who did not seek reelection and will be succeeded by Fredda Maddox, who was also at the event. “Some children are hesitant to be around law enforcement, but at the end of the day, they are sitting having lunch with us. That’s the connection. It’s not just the gifts.”

Welsh said she will be handing the torch to Maddox, who will continue the tradition.

“This is a marvelous tradition,” Maddox said, and it will definitely be continued. This is for the kids and helps build bridges and relations with the kids. It’s a great program. I’m seeing lots of smiles today, and that’s what I want to see.”

Through fund raising events, the sheriff’s department, with help from Walmart grants, was able to pick up the tabs for $100 worth of gifts chosen by each of the kids.

The kids were brought over to the event in two school buses and accompanied by a parade of sheriff’s deputies, who drove over with lights flashing and sirens blaring into the Walmart parking lot. They were pushed around in shopping carts by sheriff’s deputies to look for gifts on their lists.

In addition to the deputies, there were also volunteer helpers from the community, Santa, and some “elves” who work at the Chester County Court House. About 75 from the Chester County Sheriff’s Department assisted.

Once the students selected gifts, the shopping teams went to cash registers, where a posse of volunteers wrote the recipients’ names on the gifts, loaded them into large bags with the students’ names, and transported them to the gift-wrapping station set up at the Elks Club in West Chester

The Chester County Family Academy was founded in 1997 to carry out the vision of local philanthropists Dick and Sheila Sanford “to make a difference in the lives of children.” Most of the families, for whom English is a second language, struggle financially but share a strong commitment to the importance of education.

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