12/18/11 — Protecting, serving, playing Santa

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Protecting, serving, playing Santa

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 18, 2011 1:50 AM

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Mar-Mac Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Marion Bryant jokes with Ki'Mirah Williams, 1, and Fire Princess Erin Lyda during the Shop with a Firefighter event at Walmart in Rosewood

Local police officers and firefighters took needy children shopping for Christmas on Saturday, with the grownups giving the impression they enjoyed themselves even more than the elated youngsters.

Jesse Jernigan is president of the Wayne County Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. It is an annual ritual for the lodge to seek out and help kids who need a boost at the holidays.

"Seeing the reaction on the child's face, you can't describe it," he said. "They glow. You read stories about stuff like that. It is the kind of stuff to make a grown man choke up and cry."

On Saturday, the FOP took five children shopping for clothes and toys at the Walmart in Rosewood.

Iyahna Timmons, 9, picked out a favorite coat, along with boots, T-shirts and an MP3 player. Her mother, Shunita Wheeler, said it was difficult to put into words how much the officers' generosity meant.

"A lot of people out here are struggling and people coming together to make things happen for others who are not expecting it is a gift," Ms. Wheeler said. "It lets you know that there are people out there that are good and caring."

Chapter members include deputies with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, police officers from the City of Goldsboro, Walnut Creek and Princeton and officers with the state Department of Correction. They raise money for the shopping spree by selling chances on gasoline and firearms.

Jernigan said wanting to help others comes naturally to lawmen and firefighters. He noted that FOP members encourage parents to use the opportunity to buy items of real value, like coats and boots, not simply toys.

"I understand growing up poor. I've been there," Jernigan said. "I know as a child going to school you want to feel good about yourself and have self-esteem. That isn't easy with holes in your socks and shoes."

Jernigan said another benefit of the shopping spree is that it gives children a chance to see another side of the man or woman wearing the badge.

"They have seen the police coming around to take my daddy to jail or something. They don't see the positives."

Members of the Mar-Mac Volunteer Fire Department also were helping pick out toys and clothing at Walmart Saturday. The department "adopted" 2-year-old Amarii and 1-year-old Ki'mirah Williams for Christmas. The girls lost their father a year ago and are being cared for by their grandparents and their godmother, Lowanda Shearod.

She said she and her husband were thrilled when they got a phone call last week confirming that the girls would be going with the firefighters. After picking out gifts, the firefighters took the family to lunch, with Ki'mirah refusing to let go of the dolls she had chosen.

Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Baker said the group representing the department had as much fun as the little girls.

"We all got attached to them pretty quick. They enjoyed us, and we enjoyed them," he said.

Like Jernigan, Baker said he wished his group had more money and could help more children.

"Our community gives us heavy support, and we want to support them in return," Baker said. "We try to work hand in hand with the public. We have always been dedicated to helping out our community."