By Ed Brock
Christmas was coming and 55-year-old Vollie Ragland was concerned about providing presents for her 14 grandchildren, all of whom live with her.
"I was just praying that somebody would help me," Ragland said.
On Wednesday night her prayers were answered by Riverdale police officers collectively playing the role of Santa Claus with their "Shop With a Cop" program.
"I'm blessed. God blessed me," Ragland said.
Paula Hickling had an identical response when members of the Clayton County Sheriff's Office Court Services Security Section stepped in to give her and her three children a merry Christmas along with families from the Hope House homeless shelter.
"I almost gave up hope to be honest," Hickling said. "Something told me to just keep going."
The Christmas spirit has entered law enforcement agencies around the country and in Clayton County and expressed itself in programs such as these. Other police departments in Morrow and Forest Park also participate in Shop With a Cop or other Christmas programs.
"They make sure these families have a Christmas that they probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for others pitching in," Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said about his employees and the young volunteers in the sheriff's Explorers Post 922.
The Explorers also sponsor the annual Christmas Party for Hope House that was held Friday.
"I think it makes me a better person, helping little kids who otherwise won't have Christmas," said 16-year-old Emmett Arnold, an Explorer helping with the party for the first time.
Explorer Jennifer Singleton, 17, has helped with the party for the three years it has been held.
"I like seeing the little faces of the kids when we have the party," Singleton said. "They're always smiling."
That's the same feeling Riverdale City Council member Rick Scoggins got from attending the Shop With a Cop party at Riverdale City Hall last week.
"I'm seeing them smiling now and when I see them smile it makes me smile," Scoggins said.
The program, sponsored by donations from the Wal-Mart store in Riverdale, provided 28 children and 10 parents from the community not only with the presents and food from Wednesday's party but also each family got $300 gift certificates from Wal-Mart.
"This year was far beyond last year. We were far more organized and able to give the parents a lot more," said Riverdale police Officer Russell Rogers who helped organize the event. "Every year it just gets better and better."
Ragland received an extra $300 gift certificate because of the size of her family. She has adopted all of the children, ages 5 months to 18 years old, and must support them on the pension she receives as the widow of a Vietnam War veteran who died in that conflict.
"Basically I've had them all their lives," Ragland said.
Demontavious Ragland, 13, said he has to watch his younger brothers and sisters a lot, but he likes it. He had a simple request for Christmas.
"A Play Station 2," Demontavious said.
James and Heather Flynn of Riverdale and their sons, 7-year-old Nicholas and 8-year-old Eric, also enjoyed the party. James Flynn is a mechanic who has not been able to work full time recently because of operations on his legs.
"My boss is a real nice guy and he lets me work four to five hours a day so I can get some money," Flynn said.
Eric said he wanted Army toys and Nicholas prefers a fire truck or anything to do with his heroes, firefighters and police officers.
Tony Allen, Hickling's 15-year-old son, also wanted video games for Christmas, but he also wanted a laptop computer.
"I need to look up things when I'm doing work for school," Allen said. "I want to be a doctor, and if I can't be a doctor I want to be in the FBI."
Hickling's situation came to Deputy Satira Walker's attention during a child abandonment hearing held in early December. She was hoping to file a warrant against her ex-husband who refused to help her with the children.
"Just listening to her story, she was very candid and forthcoming about his not helping," Walker said. "She just needed help."
Hickling didn't ask for the help, but Walker and her supervisor Lt. Dwrel Lee decided to include her in the Hope House party.
One of the mothers staying at Hope House, who asked to be identified only by her last name Belk, also said the party was a blessing. She had a slight difference of opinion with her 2-year-old daughter regarding what the girl should get for Christmas.
"She says Sponge Bob, I say educational," Belk said.