By PETER KASPARI
Fort Dodge Police Department/Webster County Sheriff’s Department reservist Mark Gargano watches as Shawn Estlund, 7, of Dayton, tries out a Star Wars Darth Vader mask that alters his voice to sound like the character in the film series, as they shop during the annual Santa Cops Program shopping night at Target.
As Ariayana McCellan walked down the aisles at Target Tuesday evening, she found a pink skirt that she really wanted to buy.
"That's beautiful!" McCellan, 5, of Fort Dodge, said. "This one's just the one I like!"
Deputy Amy Stringer, of the Webster County Sheriff's Department, helped McCellan pick out the right size before putting it into a shopping cart and getting ready to pick out one more gift.
It was all part of the annual Santa Cops event, which is put on by law enforcement in Webster County.
Every year, area children in need are given $100 and go shopping with a law enforcement officer at Target.
Stringer, who was participating in Santa Cops for the first time, said she enjoyed the experience.
"This is a lot of fun and a great way to spend time with the community," she said. "We don't want the kids to be afraid of us."
Throughout the aisles of Target, members of the Webster County Sheriff's Department, Fort Dodge Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, Fort Dodge/Webster County Reserve Unit and officers from other police departments accompanied children as they shopped for not only themselves, but members of their family as well.
Jennifer Pigman, 10, a fourth-grader at Southeast Webster Grand Elementary School, bought toys for her siblings and cologne for her father.
"I already know what I'm getting," Pigman said. "Except I don't know what to get my brother yet."
Trooper Brenda Rinard, of the Iowa State Patrol, went shopping with Pigman.
"It's fun talking to the kids," Rinard said. "So many of them have a plan coming in."
Shawn Estlund, 7, of Dayton, bought several Star Wars toys, including a Darth Vader mask, for both himself and his brother.
"The best part here is getting whatever you want," Estlund said. "Mom and Dad usually get to decide what to buy."
Officer Zach Stanley, of the Fort Dodge Police Department, said the children impress him with their selflessness.
"They're not greedy," he said. "They look out for their families more than themselves."
Dayton Police Chief Nicholas Dunbar said that's part of the reason he enjoys coming to Fort Dodge to shop with the kids.
"It's a lot of fun to follow the kids around," he said. "I enjoy donating my time to come here and have fun shopping."
Parents, including Nicole Young, of Fort Dodge, said Santa Cops is a helpful program to both families and children.
"So many parents are struggling," she said. "This gets kids used to thinking that cops are the good people."
Her daughter, Maggie Young, 6, was excited to be selected for Santa Cops.
"She's been dancing and singing and hopping about ever since she found out," Young said.
Santa Cops is funded through community donations, and the children are selected by the area schools, which provide lists of eligible children to law enforcement.
Santa Cops continues tonight at Target.