The lights that twinkled and flashed outside the Sorenson Multicultural and Unity Fitness Center in Salt Lake early Saturday morning were not the usual sort of Christmas light display.
The street was lined with fire trucks and police cars, all flashing their lights in the early morning to welcome children and over 600 local volunteers for the 20th annual Christmas "Shop with a Cop."
Each year, underprivileged children who are qualified for the program through organizations such as Guadalupe School, the Sorensen Center and the Hope Project are paired with a local volunteer and taken Christmas shopping.
Eldon Farnsworth, president of Fireman and Friends for Kids, explained that donations made by the public and other corporate offices provide the money given to the children to shop with. Each of the 175 children participating in the outing this year was given $90.
Parents began dropping their children off at 6:15 a.m., when they were paired with a local officer or volunteer from the community. Farnsworth explained that this was done because the children enjoyed shopping with local heroes and role models, but it also allowed the child to pick out the presents that they truly wanted, making the event all about the child.
If a child comes with a list of items sent by a parent, the list is thrown out. The child is there to shop for what they want, not anything else, said Farnsworth.
The event began with breakfast, a dance performance, a visit from Real Salt Lake soccer player, Chris Wingert and the Jazz Bear, who shot confetti, sprayed silly string and threw out stacks of pictures for the children to catch — but most importantly, a visit from Santa Claus himself. The excited children cheered with Santa's arrival, and he lead them in singing Christmas carols.
Kara Downs of Sandy and her friend Jessica May of Cottonwood Heights were volunteering this year for the second time.
"It's a great opportunity to spend time with the kids. It's fun," said May. Downs and May went shopping with 7- and 8--year-old sisters.
"The best part of this morning was seeing the Jazz Bear because he was throwing pictures," the young sisters said.
After the departure of Santa Claus, volunteers and children were loaded into eight charter buses and given a police escort to their shopping destination. With police leading the way, a fire truck led each bus, flashing their lights and sounding their sirens.
To volunteer in next year's event or donate money, visit: FF4kids.org or send to P.O Box 1502 Riverton, UT 84065.