Jade Darroch, 3, clings to her mother, Shannyn Darroch, accompanied by, from left, her grandmother Maria Fisher, Largo Fire Lt. Emmett Sands and Firefighter Jorge Olivera during the eighth annual Shop with a Cop or Firefighter at Walmart Dec. 13.
LARGO – For weeks, 3-year-old Jade Darroch was excited that she has been chosen to take part in Largo’s eighth annual Shop with a Cop or Firefighter event.
She couldn’t wait to show up at the Walmart on Missouri Avenue with her mom and grandmother Dec. 13. But that was until she got there.
Overwhelmed by the other children and their families, the police officers and firefighters in full uniform, and a huge fire truck parked in front of the store, all she could do was cling to her mother bewildered at the commotion.
“She was so excited about all this,” said her mother, Shannyn Darroch. “Once she gets rid of this little bout of shyness, she’ll be all right.”
In fact, it only took a few minutes among the aisles in the toy department, full of exactly what she wanted. Jade soon let go of her mother and began roaming from shelf to shelf, from toy to toy.
Shop with a Cop or Firefighter, sponsored by Walmart and the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot, invited 22 families to participate this year. When it began, the shopping event just involved the police, as a way to fill a need in the community, said Police Sgt. Chris Burke, its main organizer.
“Every city has families that are struggling during the holiday season,” he said. “The thought was to pair them up with law enforcement to give the underprivileged kids a positive view of the police. It is a way to generate some good will during the holidays.”
Three years ago, Largo Fire Rescue got involved, and “Firefighter” was added to the name of the event. And that was a good thing for little Jade, her mother explained.
“She wants a fireman to help her,” Darroch said. “Her best friend, Logan, wants to be a fireman when he grows up, so she wants a fireman to help her.”
Jade had two firefighters to help her. Lt. Emmett Sands and Firefighter Jorge Olivera followed Jade around the store, pushing the shopping cart and keeping track of what she picked up.
The program gives $250 to each family chosen to participate. The money can be spent however the child sees fit. Last year, one of the youngsters showed what the holiday spirit was all about, Burke said
“It was a girl, 12 or 13 years old,” he said. “She took her sweet time going around the store, picking out presents for friends and family on her list. She didn’t buy a single thing for herself.
“That is what we like to see: someone that age, caring more about someone other than themselves,” he said.
One of the things Jade wanted to do right away was head for the pet section to buy treats for her grandmother’s dog. It was a happy day for the Darroch family, including Maria Fisher, Jade’s grandmother. Just two years ago, her son, Jade’s father, was killed in a traffic accident on Indian Rocks Road.
Darroch said it was tough trying to tell a little 3-year-old that her Daddy can’t be there at Christmas.
“It is heart-breaking when you are sitting there cuddling before going to bed, and it is time to say good night to Daddy,” she said. “She’ll say, ‘I want to go up in the sky with Daddy.’ I tell her Daddy is in her heart and he is there watching her.”
The event brings a lot of joy to the families who participate.
“I’m very thankful. I broke into tears when they told me about it,” said Darroch. “I’m glad they can do this for us. It is going to be a wonderful Christmas. It is helping out so much, because I can’t do much.
“This is the biggest Christmas blessing I’ve ever had. It is amazing.”