The Salt Lake City Police Department fills up children’s Christmas lists and delivers gifts to the local Walmart

Sisters Camille and Jennifer Norton speak to Santa Dallas Nessen at the Salt Lake City Police Department’s annual Holiday Pay-it-Forward event at the Walmart in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Fifty-five children filled out a holiday wish list and mailed it to the Salt Lake City Police Department, and the community outreach team made shopping and gift wrapping for each of the children. (Laura Seitz, Desert News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – The atmosphere outside a Walmart in Salt Lake City was filled with the Christmas spirit on Saturday morning as police officers, Santa Claus and Walmart employees presented children with bags of gifts.

Salt Lake City Police Department helped fill out wish lists for 55 children from three local elementary schools as part of their Pay-it-Forward event. The children are selected by the school districts and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, who are considering which children have the greatest needs and which would benefit from positive interaction with law enforcement, said Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown.

He said each child is given a $ 200 budget and can shop whatever they want. Often times, they buy gifts for others in their families. In the past few years officials have shown one child at a time to help them choose gifts, and sometimes they have got the children to get them to choose something for themselves.

This year the police went shopping all week to collect the children’s gifts, which were wrapped and ready for the children. He said they have adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials hope to hold the event in person again next year.

Brown said seeing the children’s smiles at the event was one of the highlights of the year for police. They also run a back-to-school version of the Pay-it-Forward program and help kids get school supplies.

Not only is the event a great experience for the kids and their parents, but it will also benefit the department, Brown said, as it gives them an opportunity to build relationships and trust with individuals in the community.

“When you start in the youth, those relationships resonate for decades in the churches we serve,” Brown said. “Policemen, children and Christmas – it couldn’t be better.”

He said that on Saturday morning a girl came who was very excited to see Santa Claus.

“It was just heartwarming to see how excited these kids are,” said Brown.

Dallas “Santa” Nessen said that when they ask the children what they want for Christmas, they get touching responses from children who ask for a coat for their sister or for their family to be together. He enjoys interacting with the kids and seeing their excited expressions on their faces.

“There’s nothing like a child’s light and joy, and they just shine,” said Nessen.

Parents said their children were really looking forward to the presents and to meeting Santa Claus.

Tiesha Norton said her kids, Jennifer and Camille, are “super excited” to arrive today. After talking to Santa Claus, one of her daughters was happy to report that she was on the nice list. They both said their favorite Christmas thing is the gifts. Norton said she didn’t like Christmas, but now with her kids she loves the holidays.

Teresa Gutierrez, a civilian who works in the police force, has been helping with the event for 23 years. She said it was something she wouldn’t want to miss. She likes to see the children’s faces when they get their presents and sit with Santa Claus.

“It’s just all the excitement and energy that you get from everyone from Walmart employees to our officers,” Gutierrez said.

The program is run through donations from the Salt Lake City Police Foundation, Salt Lake City Police Department staff, and various community organizations and companies, including the Walmart Supercenter.

Several Walmart employees helped hand out bags and came outside to be part of the morning’s excitement.

“I think it’s cool that the community, the store and the officials are coming together and making this possible for the kids,” said Salina Perez, a Walmart employee.

Walmart staff provided bags of candy, helped put up the decorations around Santa, and found the bags for the kids when they came.

In addition to this event in Salt Lake City, other police departments participated in a similar program on Saturday to help children with Christmas shopping. Cedar City Police held their “Shop With a Cop” event, and so did the Duchesne County Sheriff‘s Office.


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