Sheriff's Deputy Misty Miller was standing in the sports department at the Walmart on Rosedale Highway on Saturday morning when she turned to 13-year-old Alexander Mendoza and asked him, "What about a football? Do you need a football?"
He admitted he did. A a soccer ball, too, and a basketball. So into the shopping cart they went.
Then Miller asked about a pump. "If you have three balls, I don't want them to go flat," she said.
Next they were off to the video games section. But that didn't go well when she saw the selection. "These are violent," she said disapprovingly. "We don't want violent games, huh?" They moved on.
Variations on that scene replayed throughout the store as the Kern County Sheriff's Office put on its annual Shop with a Cop event for 50 local, underprivileged children.
Accompanied by deputies in full uniform pushing shopping carts, children were allotted $100 each to buy almost anything they wanted.
Also helping Mendoza and his youngest sister, Berenice, was Miller's husband, Deputy Bradley Miller. He called the program "just a great opportunity to get (children) gifts that they might not be able to get."
Bradley said the shopathon was funded in part by proceeds from a recent evening at Chili's Grill & Bar in which deputies raise money by serving as waiters. He said the event puts law enforcement in a positive light, showing kids that deputies are there to help, not just arrest people.
Donations for the event also came from Walmart, the Kern Law Enforcement Association, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, Dunkin' Donuts, Countryside Market, Trinity Services Group and Kern County Supervisors David Couch and Leticia Perez.
"It's a great program," said Deputy Dan Willis, the agency's assistant coordinator for the nonprofit Sheriff's Activities League. "Obviously, I jumped in on the first chance I get. Some of these kids wouldn't have a Christmas without this program."
Willis' charge for the day, 6-year-old Remmy Tapia, spent the morning digging through toys, picking up every available color of Play-Doh and choosing among toy cars and puzzles.
At one point the boy picked up a Ken doll. "You want to get a Barbie?" Willis asked. "You can if you want," the deputy said. Tapia put it back.
By the end of Tapia's shopping spree, he had surpassed his $100 spending limit. But Deputy Willis had a hard time saying no when the Giant Military Copter Playset still hadn't been rung up.
"It's hard," Willis said to a reporter. He covered the cash difference from his own wallet.
Tapia said he likes deputies and thinks the event was "pretty cool."
"I like it because I got lots of toys and I like how the toys work," he said.
The Sheriff's Activities League selects kids to participate in collaboration with local school social workers. This year, the children come from east Bakersfield, the Kern River Valley, Lamont and Wasco.
The program has been going on annually for at least seven years but only became formalized three years ago, said Ashley South, a crime prevention coordinator for the Sheriff’s Office.
"Before that, deputies would all get together and pool their funds to make it happen," she said.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Adam Plugge described the event as "a lot of good people doing good stuff." He said it's a good way to interact with children outside the normal course of work.
"I think it's just important for us to be able to get out here," he said.