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Cops, firefighters respond to brighten Largo kids' Christmas

Lt. Ed Sohoski shops with Carrie Lee during the third annual Shop With a Cop & Fireman at Wal-Mart in Largo. Donations were made by Wal-Mart and Charity Works to children from 10 deserving families.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Lt. Ed Sohoski shops with Carrie Lee during the third annual Shop With a Cop & Fireman at Wal-Mart in Largo. Donations were made by Wal-Mart and Charity Works to children from 10 deserving families.

Rudolph's nose would have come in handy Saturday morning as families navigated fog to participate in the third annual Shop with a Cop & Fireman event at Wal-Mart.

Once there, families were greeted with a smile and a gift card from uniformed Largo police officers and firefighters.

By 9 a.m., smile power lit the parking lot at 1111 N Missouri Ave. like Christmas. Children bounced into the store. Some fingered lists. Each was paired with an officer or firefighter and allowed $250 to buy gifts for themselves and their families.

Helping people less fortunate was the purpose behind a $2,500 donation from Wal-Mart and Charity Works Inc., and the reason nine police officers, five firefighters and their chiefs volunteered on their last Saturday off before Christmas.

"We take it for granted all kids will have something Christmas morning, but that's not always the case," police Chief Lester Aradi told Wal-Mart manager Javier Brenes, 33, of Clearwater.

There was nothing being taken for granted on Saturday, thanks to the effort.

Marcus Tatum, 9, of Largo was recommended for the shopping spree by Belcher Elementary School teachers. His mom, Bobbie Tatum, 30, waited until Friday night to tell him.

"He was ecstatic," she said. "I'm happy, too. He's so good. Loves to read and was one B short of making the principal's list."

Marcus looked serious. "I need Pokey Man (Pokemon) cards for my brother," he told firefighter Chris Lewis, 30, of Largo. "I want to buy Mom something, but I don't know what she likes."

He chose a gold box of chocolate candy.

For himself, Marcus picked a chess set, Nerf Launcher, Super Mario game and a large basketball.

"This one might fit your hand better," Lewis said, grabbing a smaller diameter ball.

Officer Mike Blickensdorf, 27, escorted a family of three — mom Christy, 27, who declined to give her last name, and children Alize 6, Zane, 3 — into the store. Little Zane darted toward Transformers.

"They remind me of my kids," said Blickensdorf, who has a 2 1/2-year-old and a 1-year-old. "They don't stop."

After adding My Little Pet Shop and a colorful guitar to her cart, Alize grinned. "This is too much for a rock star!"

"I'm so thankful," said Christy, who works and attends St. Petersburg College. "I worked two jobs, lost one and split from the kids' dad. It's tough catching up."

For one family, a language barrier almost ruined the event.

Laura Flores, 22, of Largo and her children, Jhovana Saucedo, 5, and Angel Saucedo, 8 months, were no-shows. Flores thought she would be taken to Wal-Mart and was waiting for the ride. Jeanine Mayo, Largo Fire Department public educator, rushed to transport the family once she understood the problem.

"Pleased," Flores said in broken English when she arrived. Her smile needed no translation.

Fire Chief Michael Wallace gave credit to Aradi.

"He's responsible for this program and allows us to participate," Wallace said. "Through it, we help make children's lives happier."

Aradi planned for 10 families and didn't skip a beat when an 11th family showed up. When a 12th family arrived later, Aradi smiled and reached for his wallet.

"Looks like we need another gift card," he said.

Cops, firefighters respond to brighten Largo kids' Christmas 12/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 2:20pm]
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