An early Christmas for kids while they shop with a cop |

An early Christmas for kids while they shop with a cop

— The toy aisles at Walmart were busy Sunday when 18 local youth with a $125 budget got to shop during the third annual Shop With a Cop event.

“It’s fun to see their eyes light up when they see the toys and they can actually buy them,” Walmart manager Carrie Tiller said. “It’s kind of like we are being Santa for a day.”

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office applied for a Walmart grant and was awarded $2,500, up from $2,000 last year.

“Walmart gets involved, because it’s a way for our local Walmart to participate in the community and help parents that aren’t necessarily able to provide for their kids,” Tiller said.

Someone shopping at the store donated $30 in case there were any overages.

About 15 sheriff’s deputies and Steamboat Springs Police Department officers were paired up with the youths, who were allowed to spend the money on anything they wanted, as long as their parents approved.

Five-year-old Maliyah Varela, of Hayden, was shopping with her mom, Melinda, sister, Arabella, and deputy Bryan Wojtkiewicz.

Maliyah is not able to see her father this holiday season.

“She’s having a hard time coping with not seeing him this year,” Melinda Varela said. “This is nice. It’s a good way to get her mind off things.”

Maliyah had fun playing with light sabers with Wojtkiewicz and picking out a new helmet with plastic spikes on top.

Wojtkiewicz said it was exciting to see the kids shop, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Walmart bump up the donation amount this year.

“For them to go around and grab anything off the shelves is kind of nice,” Wojtkiewicz said.

Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Ryan Adrian worked with LiftUp of Routt County to select the children.

“They ask us to look for families that we want to give more of a Christmas,” LiftUp case manager Angela Mackey said. “Throughout the year, we keep an eye out for families,” Mackey said.

She said that, this year, the participating families included stay-at-home moms, single-parent homes and children who are under the guardianship of their grandparents.

“It’s helpful, especially around stressful holiday times,” Melinda Varela said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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