Christian Mattson was a teenager on a mission Saturday morning in Longview, darting down aisles and filling his shopping cart with gifts for his parents and two brothers.
With the help of Castle Rock police reserve officer Chris Koehler and a $125 donated gift card, Christian scanned aisles and double checked prices, replacing items when he found a more thrifty alternative during the annual Shop with a Cop program.
"My mom's really good at bargain shopping so I'm trying to do that," the 13-year-old explained.
And only after all of his family's presents were safely in the cart did Christian look for anything for himself, finally selecting a hat and T-shirt after deciding an airsoft gun and a coat were both too expensive.
"That's the way it is with most of the kids," said Sgt. Scott Neves of the Castle Rock Police Department, who said he had to almost twist Troy Werly's arm to get the Castle Rock 12-year-old to get something for himself. "That's why I like doing this so much."
Ninety local children from Vader to Woodland received the extra help with their purchases this year thanks to the programs organized by police Chaplain Steve White and, new this year, the police departments in the southern part of the county.
The Shop with a Cop program matches children from lower income families with a police officer to shop for Christmas gifts. In addition to helping with the kids' shopping lists, organizers like to give the children exposure to police in a friendly, non-threatening setting. And the officers say they have a blast playing Santa with the kids.
"It's really fun for us," Castle Rock Police Officer Charlie Worley said. "We get to show them we're human too and that we like to have fun and joke around."
Longview and Kelso police officers shopped with elementary students from their towns — Longview at the Seventh Avenue Walmart on Friday and Kelso at Target on Saturday. Castle Rock Police Department and Cowlitz County sheriff's deputies visited the Ocean Beach Highway Walmart Saturday with middle school students from Castle Rock, Toutle and Vader. Those three shopping sprees were paid for with $12,000 in donations, including $2,000 each from the two Longview Walmarts, White said.
Further south, officers from the Woodland, Kalama and Ridgefield police departments and representatives form the sheriff's office held their first Shop with a Cop program Saturday as well.
They helped 30 children shop at the Woodland Walmart, thanks to a $3,300 donation from the Woodland Walmart, as well as donations from General Mills and the officers. Shoppers also donated money after witnessing the event, according to Woodland police. Each child had $100 to spend and organizers are already planning next year's event, Woodland Police Chief Rob Stephenson wrote in a statement.
As the children rang up their purchases in Longview on Saturday, officers said over and over again how impressed they were to see the children forgoing extra gifts for themselves in order to share with their families. The children, though, said being able to give gifts was a present in itself.
"It's fun to be able to buy something for them," Troy Werly said. "Usually I just make cards."
"I think it's going to be really fun to see the expressions on their faces when they open these up," said 12-year-old Justise Anderson of Castle Rock.