Christmas came early for 10-year-old Jose Guerrero.
The Meairs Elementary School fourth grader and about 40 other underprivileged children, ages 8 to 13, spent Saturday morning at Walmart in Westminster making their holiday dreams come true.
Thanks to the 13th annual Shop With A Cop program, Jose and other participants each received $100 Walmart gift cards to spend as they wished.
Over the next two hours, the youngsters, each accompanied by a Westminster or Fountain Valley police officer, raced through the store filling their carts with goodies for themselves and loved ones.
“Yeah, I’m tired,” said Officer Andy Travis of the Westminster Police Department, one of the roughly 40 officers who volunteered for the event. “But when I see the kids’ smiling faces, it gets me pumped up. It’s totally worth it.”
Few, if any, children smiled as joyously as Jose, whom Travis accompanied on the shopping spree.
Pushing an oversized cart, Jose led Travis directly to the toy section for a WWE Royal Rumble Superstar Ring.
Then Jose picked up sweat pants, three packages of underwear, two pairs of shorts with camouflage patterns, a couple shirts, socks, colored pencils, basketball shoes, crayons and a football.
Jose, his cart nearly full, had easily reached his $100 limit. But when the Travis noticed that the Superstar Ring came with no wrestling figures, he made a much-appreciated suggestion.
“Let’s go back to the wrestlers,” Travis said.
For him and all the other participants, it was a day to remember.
The event allowed area police to touch lives, while simultaneously build bridges, said Sgt. Alan Iwashita of Westminster PD, one of the department’s 25 police in attendance.
“This is a good way for us to help members of our community that are potentially struggling at this time and to develop relationships with youth in our community, who will ultimately be the adults in our community,” Iwashita said.
Added Senior Officer Pat Estes of Fountain Valley PD: “This is an opportunity for us to show kids that we’re good, that we can be trusted. They can see us for who we are, and we can find common good with them.”
For the children and their families, Shop With A Cop made the holiday season extra special.
Oscar Rivera, Jose’s stepfather, and Jose’s mother, Karen Rivera, have five children between them.
They struggle just to get by, financial worry a constant companion. That’s why Oscar Rivera said he felt so grateful for the police’s generosity.
“I think this day is a huge blessing and a big relief to families,” he said. “Knowing that there are some things on Jose’s wish list that he can now get, that his mother and father couldn’t afford, is incredible.”
Shop With A Cop is a partnership among the local Boys & Girls Club and Westminster and Fountain Valley PDs.
The club selects the children based on economic need and personality.
The police departments pay for half the cost of the gift cards, with Walmart covering the rest, Iwashita said.
At the Dec. 10 event, the children and their new law enforcement friends did more than shop.
The morning began with officers meeting the children at a McDonald’s inside the Walmart.
The police bought the kids breakfast and got to know them over Egg McMuffins and Sausage Biscuits.
Then Santa Claus came to town – in a Bearcat.
After St. Nick jumped out of the SWAT vehicle, he gave high fives to all the children, who had moved outside to greet him.
A bit later, Santa met individually with them, listening to their requests and taking photos.
Then the shopping began.
Within minutes, a traffic jam had developed in the toy section, with giddy children scooping up gifts for themselves and loved ones.
To end their shopping spree, Jose and Travis returned to the toy section a final time.
“Go ahead and get some,” the officer said. Jose quickly added three WWE action figures to the cart: Ryback, Adrian Neville and his favorite, Roma Reigns.
Moments later, a cashier rung up the total: $141.57.
A nearby Westminster police officer handed the cashier another gift card to cover the remaining balance.
Jose soon reunited with his parents in the parking lot, telling them what an amazing day he had.
Travis whipped out his phone to take a selfie of the two of them. Then the pair embraced.
“Thank you so much,” Jose said.
Before parting, Travis handed the Riveras a $100 gift card to Stater Brothers – a holiday present police gave to all the children’s parents.
A stunned Karen Rivera could barely speak.
“I feel very, very happy,” she said. “We’re going through some tough times, and this really helps.”