Children bedecked with paper reindeer antlers darted back and forth between aisles in Target on Tuesday night, scooping up gifts for themselves and their families.
The group of 25 children were hand-picked from local schools by the Dover Police Department to participate in Heroes and Helpers, a program sponsored by Target, which provides a grant so that deserving children can buy Christmas presents for themselves and their families.
The children were accompanied on their shopping trip by Dover Police officers, who supervised and helped them keep track of their budget. The evening not only provided gifts to local children, it also fostered relationships, said Sgt. Chad Bernat.
"Whenever you can brighten up a child's Christmas it's a great thing," Bernat said. "A lot of times children only see police officers when there's been an accident or some other bad situation, so this is a way to have a positive experience with a police officer and a way for us to help give back to the community that we serve."
Giving a child a more positive perspective of a police officer can help keep them safe, said Cpl. Lance Chandler.
"If kids only see us when something bad happens they'll be afraid to approach the police if they need to," Chandler said. "It's always good to have a rapport with the people in the community. They can help us if we need them and they know we're there to help them."
The Dover Target donated at total of $3,000 for the Dover Police Department's Heroes and Helpers night. Each child was given a Target gift card with $120 on it. Target's goal for the event was to foster relationships as well, said Paul Shady, executive team leader of the assets protection department at the Dover Target.
"Target strives to build strong partnerships for healthy and safer communities," Shady said. "This event was started just to foster that strong community relationship."
Between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, uniformed Dover Police officers could be seen throughout Target, pushing carts filled with Barbie dolls, stuffed animals and Disney princesses, while gaggles of children followed behind.
Cpl. Jeff Welch said he was nervous about being put in charge of three kids, but once the night got rolling, it was worth it.
"I was nervous about it because I don't have kids of my own, but they're good kids," Davis said. "I just love seeing the smiles on their faces."
Cpl. Carlton Turner looked at the night as a way to teach children, as well as making them happy.
"You try to teach kids all about giving because Christmas is about giving," Turner said. "I think they're learning and having a good time."
Page 2 of 2 - Watching the children and police officers overrun the store gave Shady a different perspective on the event.
"This is an absolutely amazing event," he said. "Five percent of Target's earnings are given back to communities; hearing that in numbers is one thing, but actually getting to see the impact it has on these kids' faces and them getting to have the holiday they may or may not have been able to have is just amazing."
The children weren't the only ones learning about giving. As the night wound down and officers and groups of children began, checking out Shady was witness to a show of Christmas spirit.
"There was one guest who, as an anonymous gesture, picked up the difference [of a group's total]," Shady said. "It was pretty amazing. She just wanted to go that extra mile for the kids."