(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON – Esmeralda Garcia was indecisive Tuesday as she stood inside Toys R Us.
The 9-year-old had already led Bradenton police Detective Dennis French to one of a few aisles dedicated to the wildly popular computer-animated film “Frozen.” French waited patiently as Esmeralda thought about which toy she wanted.
“She’s teaching me all about ‘Frozen’ because I haven’t seen that yet,” the 14-year BPD veteran said. “She’s telling me who everybody is.”
“He didn’t know who was Elsa, Anna and Olaf,” said the third-grader with dimples.
Esmeralda was one of an estimated 185 children and their families who attended the seventh annual Honoring the Badge event at 512 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
The event, a partnership between the Bradenton Police Department and Kingdom Life Christian Church, paired BPD employees with children who may not otherwise have received gifts
Bradenton police officers, detectives, members of the BPD Gang Unit and other volunteers walked slowly through aisles helping children pick out toys. Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski was there to make sure all ran smoothly.
“Quite a few of these kids are from the officers’ individual neighborhoods,” he said.
The purchase of 200 or so $25 gift cards for the children was made possible through donations from Kingdom Life Christian Church members and others.
The idea came to Kingdom Life Christian Church Pastor Don Sturiano through prayer, he said.
“It’s a good way to build a rapport and relationships with the community and the police officers — see them in another light,” he said. “And it’s another way for us to demonstrate the love of God.”
Officer Phillip Smolinsky helped George and Amy Gutierrez pick gifts for their four children.
Julian, 4, and Christian, 3, opted for superheroes.
“The kids wanted to go right to Captain America,” Smolinsky said with a smile.
The adults laughed when 2-year-old Zavian picked a police car.
Nearby, French followed Esmeralda as she walked to another part of the store.
“You’re the boss right now,” French told her as she led him through an aisle of Elmos and made two right turns before ending up at an aisle they had been to already.
Dolls from the Baby Alive line, which do everything from hiccup to giggle, were ripe for the picking. Just as she did at last year’s Honoring the Badge, Esmeralda ended up choosing a doll from the Hasbro line.
“What does this one do?” French asked Esmeralda as she studied the doll in her hands.
“It uses the bathroom,” she said.