Sheriff's Office employees took around 120 children shopping for Christmas on Saturday. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Sheriff's Office employees took around 120 children shopping for Christmas on Saturday. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Each year for over 25 years, the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office has raised money to take children shopping for Christmas. On Saturday morning, law enforcement and Sheriff’s Office employees took nearly 120 children to Wal-Mart to fulfill their Christmas wishes.

“The money is all donations that we receive from businesses and private citizens here in Van Wert County,” said Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach who also said monies also come in from outside of the county as well.

The Sheriff’s Office partners with the Salvation Army to find families in need. Each year the number of families helped varies, but Riggenbach said that the office usually looks for families with multiple children so that they can help as many children as possible.

“We appreciate all the work they put in to help us be able to do this program,” said Riggenbach. “We try to take as many kids as we can.”

On Saturday morning, a Sheriff’s Office employee was teamed up with a family, and around $100 is able to be spent on each child.

“The families do a really nice job of knowing what the needs are for the kids, so we see them focusing on the needs of what the kids are,” said Riggenbach. “They know best what their kids need, and they get needs taken care of, and we certainly encourage them that if there is something that their kids really wants and we can do that, then let's go ahead and do that.”

Riggenbach said the program also gives law enforcement an opportunity to create positive interactions with children.

“There’s going to be kids who never had any experience around law enforcement, and it’s a great opportunity to start building that foundation of making the youth in our community comfortable around us, comfortable talking with us, and we want to have a good, positive experience.”

While some of the children may have never had interaction with law enforcement, others may have had only interaction where they saw the law enforcement arresting a family member or talking with a family member that was a victim. The shopping experience gives these children a chance to see them in a different light.

“It’s a really neat program, and it’s probably one of my favorite things to do every year,” said Riggenbach. “The kids always seem to really enjoy it. The parents are always really thankful. There’s always a lot of hugs and ‘thank yous’ when we get done with the families. It’s really a great program and the support that we get every year from the program is just unbelievable. So we’re really thankful for that for sure.”