Long before the Cathedral City Target store opened its doors to the Christmas rush Saturday morning, the store was already swarming with pint-sized shoppers scampering up and down the aisles, each accompanied by one of the city’s finest – a Cathedral City police officer.

For at least three decades the Cathedral City Police Department has hosted “Shop with a Cop” for children in the community who might not have the best of holidays for various reasons.

Throughout the year, as police officers patrol the streets and neighborhoods and go out on calls, they make note of a family who might need a hand up during the holidays. The Palms Springs Unified School District also helps identify children and families who might need some holiday cheer.

Shop with a CopWith financial donations from businesses – and cash gifts from police officers — the Police Department buys Target gift cards to distribute to the identified children. This year 36 youth were the benefactors. Police Chief Travis Walker declined to say how much each card was worth. However, with a broad, proud smile, he acknowledged it was “significant.”

Some of the children bought toys for themselves; others bought gifts for family members. A wrapping station was conveniently established so each child could tuck their selections beneath bows, glitter and foil.

Santa, who arrived in the department’s BearCat, looked every bit the storied image of “jolly, old, St. Nicholas,” as he posed with children, families and police officers.

The department did not publicize the event or seek coverage. The men and women in blue did it because it’s the right thing to do.

But as eager Saturday shoppers drove in the Target parking lot to see no fewer than four police cars and officers nearly blocking the doors, it has the superficial appearance of something much sinister.

“It’s one of those events you do to stay in touch with the community, let them know you care and do to make difference,” Walker said. “Some of it gets pretty gut-wrenching because all some want to do is buy new clothes. They have not had new clothes.”

See the gallery of photos below.

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