Early on Saturday morning, the busiest place in the county was undoubtedly the Walmart in Tooele.
While many residents were still asleep, area law enforcement, volunteers and deserving children descended on the store by the dozens. The parking lot was full of police vehicles and the optical center was overrun with wrapping paper.
The annual Shop With a Cop program brings together an entire community, with law enforcement officers donating their time to enjoy positive interactions with the people they serve.
While the shopping is the climax of the program, it begins at 6 a.m. at the Country Pride restaurant inside the Travel America Truck Stop in Lake Point. Officers and recipients enjoy a free breakfast provided by the restaurant while they await the arrival of Santa Claus.
After Santa arrives by AirMed helicopter and gives out stockings full of goodies, everyone climbs into police vehicles for a long convoy to Walmart. The line of cars, with lights and sirens going, takes over the southbound lanes of state Route 36 and is a spectacle to behold.
At the store, children are assigned funds for the shopping, including $200 for each child ages 5 and older and $100 each for the younger children.
A total of 30 families benefited from Shop With a Cop this year, with more than 95 children assisted by the program, according to Tooele City Police Sgt. Tanya Kalma.
“We had amazing support this year from our law enforcement community, from private citizens, from businesses locally,” Kalma said. “It’s a great turnout.”
Funds are raised through private and business donations, as well as police fundraisers like Tip-a-Cop. This year’s Tip-a-Cop event raised more than $8,800 dollars.
As well as serving as the base of operations for the Shop With a Cop event, Walmart provides volunteers and resources from the store in Tooele and distribution center in Grantsville, Kalma said.
Aside from money for Christmas gifts, funds are provided through the program to benefit families in greater need. The program budgets $20,000 every year, which includes money for food, clothing and winter clothes.
“We want to make sure the needs and the wants are both taken care of,” said Grantsville City Police Detective Lydon Allred.
Children are nominated for the program for a range of family difficulties, including unemployment and medical or financial challenges.
The Thackeray family from Skull Valley were among the recipients of the Shop With a Cop program this year. Tom Thackeray has been battling leukemia since May 2016 and has persevered through a relapse, bone marrow transplant and weekly appointments in the past year and a half.
His wife, Annie Thackeray, said the family didn’t know about the program until their four children — McKenzie, 15, Tyler, 12, Tanner, 10 and Allie, 7 — were nominated.
“They called us and said that our family got nominated for it so we thought we’d see what it involved,” Annie Thackeray said.
While Tom Thackeray had to wait in the truck, the family was glad he was able to come along. He was released from the hospital two days prior to Shop With a Cop after dealing with his third infection in the past four months, according to Annie Thackeray.
“He can’t really be around this many people quite yet,” she said. “His immune system is really, really young.”
For the Thackeray children, shopping with the officers was a good experience. McKenzie said it was fun and the officers liked to laugh and joke.
“I got stuff for family and friends and a little bit of stuff for me,” said Tyler.
Tom Thackeray said the family had discussed Shop With a Cop and the kids determined they would try to get nice things for family, neighbors and friends with the funds. He said the experience, while he couldn’t be inside for the shopping, was special.
“I didn’t think I was going to be here today,” he said.