Jaycee Privett believes in Santa Claus now — and not just because she saw him Saturday morning.

To Jaycee’s mind, if Santa wasn’t real, then how could 85 area children be treated to shopping sprees at the Fort Mohave Walmart store?

Santa’s help came in the form of the Shop with a First Responder event, through the Sunrise Rotary Club of Fort Mohave, along with the Mohave Valley and Fort Mojave Mesa fire departments.

Event co-organizer Rhonda Letcher said the idea is to get children to see first responders, particularly law enforcement officers, in a more positive light.

Some children, she said, only know officers as “somebody who took my mommy and daddy away.”

Amanda Robinson’s 12-year-old son, Alex, was among the participating children. She said the interaction is good for the kids and for the community.

Program managers chose some of the children through The Salvation Army, and reached out to schools to get other names, Letcher said.

The day began with the children gathering and enjoying hot chocolate and pastries at Valley View Medical Center, where Santa arrived by helicopter. 

The children lined up to chat with Santa and discussed their wish lists (all 85 were on the “nice” list this year, the big guy noted). Then, each could choose a backpack and a small gift before getting into a parade of emergency response vehicles for a short trip to Walmart.

Sisters Emma and Gracie Polaha, and Savannah Harrington rode and shopped with Mohave County Sheriff’s deputy Zach Haun. They got to operate the siren in his SUV and picked up treasures that included a stuffed animal for each girl.

Haun said that participating “is the least we can do” to show appreciation to the community.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of this,” he said. “When I heard we were doing this, I was ecstatic.”

Pam and Vince Balsitis made it a family affair. Vince is a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy; his wife is a custody specialist with the sheriff’s department.

The couple has been involved with Shop with a Cop programs for several years through the Sheriff’s Employee Benefit Association, Pam Balsitis said.

“It’s a great way to give back to the community we love to serve,” she said. “To see the joy on these kids’ faces as they get gifts they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive is priceless.”

For Jaycee, that was Barbie dolls, clothes, hair products and accessories.

“I think I’m gonna get a little skateboard,” she added.

Letcher said the program received donations from the BHHS Legacy Foundation, VVMC, Walmart and others. The Shop with a Cop nonprofit of Bullhead City provided $2,500, adding 25 children to the list.

Shoppers represented agencies that included the Bullhead City fire and police departments, the Mohave County Probation Department and the Mohave County Sheriffs Office Posse.

MCSO deputy Dyllon Stevens said he understood the excitement the children were feeling.

“It’s nice to see the kids happy,” he said. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to ride in a cop car.”

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