HCSO provided one extra, special shopping experience

Special to the Caloosa Belle/HCSO
Hendry County Sheriff’s Office deputies took a group photo outside the store with members of the Flores family on Dec. 22.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 22, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden reached out to make a little boy’s dream come true. Joey Flores Jr., dressed for the part along with his handcuffs, his holstered orange toy gun and sunglasses, and dreaming of being a police officer, was ready for his shopping experience.

After answering a plea from a mother of four, ranging in age from 4 to 13, three of whom suffer from different medical conditions, Sheriff Whidden along with members of the Hendry County Sheriffs Office and the state Division of Forestry were part of the escort to Walmart in LaBelle. They were met by Glades County sheriff’s deputies when they arrived.

Joey Jr., who’s 9 years old, got to ride in a sheriff’s office car — lights and sirens and all. Joey Jr.’s younger brother Jordan, 4 years old, suddenly became ill in 2016 and was later diagnosed with AVM (arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain). Since then, there have been long stays in hospitals, surgeries and many doctor appointments aside from the appointments the other children must have. This family has had a very difficult time and struggled.

This day was very special for Joey, and his siblings enjoyed the outing, too. The Hendry County Sheriffs Office, along with a $100 donation from Division of Forestry officers, provided gift cards available through donations to make this Christmas exciting for these children.

Joey told Hendry Deputy Briana Pascher that he didn’t want it to end. Deputy Pascher, along with other law enforcement officers present, watched as Joey chose toys for himself and his family.

“Christmas seen through the eyes of children reminds me of the magic of Christmas whether it’s the lights on the tree or the presents that children anxiously await Santa to drop off,” said Sheriff Whidden. “Watching the children during Shop with a Sheriff and this family today, we are reminded of the peace and goodwill that this season is all about, and we can begin to feel that peace and joy within ourselves.”

At the HCSO’s Shop with the Sheriff event that also took place at the Clewiston Walmart, on Sunday, Dec. 16, HCSO Sheriff Whidden and a group of deputies took a large bunch of children to scour the aisles for gifts they wanted to give someone, made possible through the generosity of community members.

On videos they posted on their Facebook page, the sheriff thanked the store and its manager Joseph. “We want to thank Walmart. We can’t say enough about how much they do to support our county and our kids,” Mr. Whidden said as they welcomed the group of shoppers into the store that Sunday morning.

Deputy Clay was with some kids near the end of the store trip who were getting their gifts wrapped. He explained that they were telling the wrappers whom they wanted the gifts to be addressed to. “The great thing about this program is that most of these children are choosing not to buy for themselves and they’re buying for their family members, which is the heart of Christmas altogether. And they’re showing what Christmas is all about by choosing to support their family members rather than themselves.”

After the event, participants enjoyed a lunch cooked up and served by members of the Clewiston FFA Group. That was followed by games and prizes, and it was a whole lot of fun for all who took part, including the volunteers and the givers who made it all possible.

The Caloosa Belle is published every Thursday.

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