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Pinellas deputies become Santa's helpers for hundreds of families

OLDSMAR — The Oldsmar Walmart looked like it was under siege Thursday morning as dozens of patrol cars filled the parking lot.

But there was no emergency. The deputies were armed with Christmas wish lists.

About 100 deputies and other members of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office volunteered to spend two hours and $23,000 buying toys and clothes for children and their families as part of the Sheriff's Christmas Sharing Project, which assists crime victims and families in need. More than 300 families with about 500 children are registered in the program.

Money for the project was raised at the 17th annual Sheriff's Office "Ride and Run with the Stars," event that took place Dec. 4 at Fort DeSoto Park. The cycling, running and walking event featured a visit from Santa and a kids' bike rodeo.

Some Walmart shoppers saw what was going on and were so moved, they helped out, too.

"We had people coming up and donating toys, money and checks," said Marianne Pasha, public information coordinator for the Sheriff's Office.

Wii games, Star Wars Legos and everything Justin Bieber were items that topped the wish lists.

Deputy Michelle Mobley was among the uniformed power shoppers.

Donning a Santa hat, she perused a rack of DVDs before selecting Toy Story 2 for a 7-year-old boy on her list.

"I'm so glad to be able to help these families," she said. "It makes you sad a little bit. They're grateful for anything you give them."

Deputy Chris Lostraglio said this was his 10th year volunteering as a Santa helper. He said the best part is when he delivers the packages to the deserving families.

"We give them to the parents to give to the children," he said. "They are ecstatic. Give you hugs. It's a chance for us to help the community and break down barriers and build bridges."

After doing their Santa shopping, Sgt. Denise Nestor and Felicia Davis, a counselor with the Sheriff's Police Athletic League, exchanged hugs.

Their trip down the aisles was a bit more emotional than some.

They were shopping for the children of 26-year-old Annie Marie Conyers, killed in a drive-by shooting Nov. 30 at the Rainbow Food Mart in Largo.

Deputy William Lawson, a community policing officer for the housing complex where the children live, said Davis had been mentoring the youngsters.

"We're adopting the family," he said, "and making sure that they have a very nice Christmas," he said.

Pinellas deputies become Santa's helpers for hundreds of families 12/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 2:37pm]
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