BLACKFOOT – Fifty thrilled and excited children rode from the Blackfoot Elks Lodge to Walmart in emergency vehicles with sirens going full blast Saturday, where each of them went Christmas shopping for parents and siblings with their own personal emergency services officer.

It was the time of Santa’s Helpers, when officers and firefighters from five agencies gave up one of their precious days off duty to be a buddy to a child.

The children were paired with a shopping buddy and they dined on breakfast burritos, milk and juice at the Elks Lodge before setting off on the shopping expedition, after which they returned to the Lodge to wrap their gifts. Santa was on hand waiting for them and handed each child a gift of their own when the wrapping was finished.

The Santa’s Helpers patiently browsed through the aisles at Walmart as they assisted each child in finding just the right gift for the family members they were shopping for, and gave advice on quality and price. One cash register at the store was devoted solely to the children and their officers, who stood patiently in the long double line awaiting their turn at the check-out counter.

Bingham County 911 Dispatch Supervisor Erin Hidalgo, who coordinates the program, stood by the cash register and paid the bills for the shoppers from the funds local residents and businesses donated to the program.

Hidalgo said the shopper elves included officers from the Blackfoot Police Department, the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office, the Shelley and Aberdeen police departments, the Idaho State Police and the Blackfoot Fire Department.

She said the breakfast was donated by Summit Food Services, the business that has the contract to provide meals at the county jail, and they’re also grateful to the Elks Lodge for the use of their hall.

Thanks to the generosity of the businesses, families and individuals who donated, Hidalgo said, the Santa’s Helpers program had $10,000 to spend this Christmas on local families needing a little help. She said $5,000 was spent at Walmart Saturday, and the other $5,000 will be used by the Santa’s Helpers Committee to purchase gifts for families who didn’t have a shopper.

“People in Blackfoot and Bingham County are always so willing to donate to the less fortunate they make us proud,” she said. “I’m also proud of our officers. Some of them didn’t get off work until seven o’clock this morning, but they showed up and volunteered. The kids all seemed to enjoy it and I think it was a positive experience for them to see police officers as friends.”