Aubrey Mariano has a plan and she’s sticking to it. With a big smile, she chooses the Lego Friends set on the shelf and Sheriff’s Special Officer Christina Reina puts it in the cart next to a board game for Aubrey’s brother.
Soon, the Lego set is joined by a doll, Cutie Cars, and a giant purple ball.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department Shop with a Cop event at the Walmart in Foothill Ranch was a shared experience of holiday joy. The 65 sheriff’s deputies and special officers who volunteered found the event as fulfilling as the 25 kids who got a $100 gift card to fill a shopping cart full of Christmas gifts. The event is organized by OCSD’s Six Points for Kids, a deputy-driven program to give back to the community.
As Aubrey and her shopping buddies, SSO Reina and deputy Margarita Torres, work their way down the aisles, Aubrey beams and laughs and soaks up the moment. It’s a far cry from what put her here in the first place.
She stopped eating a year ago and suffers from terrible anxiety in public places. Aubrey’s therapist at aMAYZing Kids, a clinic in Rancho Santa Margarita that treats kids with special needs, picked Aubrey to take part in the event, which is a partnership with OCSD and Walmart.
Clearly, the evening is a form of therapy all its own.
“It’s giving her a confidence she doesn’t have,” her father, Glenn, said. “This is a big deal. This changes people’s lives and it’s heartfelt.”
Her shopping buddies were feeling it, too.
“Just to see her smile makes it worth it,” Reina said. “And it’s so good to make a first impression that’s positive like this.”
Torres believes nights like these can have lasting effect for the kids they help, as well as themselves.
“It’s a fulfilling experience that we get to share with them,” Torres said. “It was nice to see her do this by herself. She had fun and that made it fun for us. If they see the positive impact when they’re young, they grow up not being afraid of police officers.”
Deputy Pete Chavez, who organizes the yearly event, said he was thrilled to help a clinic like aMAYZing Kids.
“This is for the kids, but I told the deputies they were going to get a lot more out of this than the kids will in just seeing them smile,” Chavez said.
aMAYZing Kids Co-Director Lori Roelofs called the evening “very special.”
“For the kids to learn the deputies are so approachable is great,” Roelofs said. “We’ve even had different families keep in touch with the deputies who shopped with them.”