Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

For 20 years, law enforcement officers, community leaders, and volunteers have been coming together at Christmas time to take children in need shopping for Christmas for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office’s  annual Shop with a Cop event.

Last Friday, about 350 children were treated to a full day of shopping, dinner, and a visit with Santa Claus himself.

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland and his wife Marci started the program 20 years ago, after learning of a family in need in the care of the county’s department of social services. From there, the program has continued to grow and with the support of the community, which 100 percent funds the project, has been able to reach hundreds of children in Macon County.

The Shop with a Cop event is a partnership with the sheriff’s office and Walmart, which hosts the kids during their shopping adventure. Each child is gifted $100 and are only given one requirement: to purchase at least one gift for someone other than themselves. After shopping, the kids gather at the Drake Education Center to meet with volunteers who help them wrap their gifts. Read2Me has also become a partnering organization over the last few years and provides a free book to every child. The Enforcers Motorcycle Club had a coat distribution center set up for those in need of a warm jacket this winter.

When the event first started, Holland reached out to a couple of restaurants who partnered with the sheriff’s department to provide the children with a meal after their shopping trip, but in the event’s 20th year, a record number of restaurants volunteered to treat the group to a complimentary meal. Eleven restaurants participated in this year’s Shop With a Cop including Bojangles, Burger King, Captain D’s, Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, McDonald’s, Motor Company Grill, Pizza Factory, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, and Zaxby’s.

While the event is organized through the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, agencies from across Macon County sign up to participate including the Franklin and Highlands Police Departments, Clayton Police Department, North Carolina Highway Patrol, NC Wildlife officers, Department of Social Services, Macon County EMS, Macon County Dispatch, local fire departments, churches, and community organizations.