About 100 DuPage County police cars with flashing lights and sirens followed Santa Claus into a parking lot Saturday morning at the Meijer store in Bloomingdale, but it's not because he was in trouble.
It was what's commonly known as "Shop with a Cop," with uniformed officers getting paired with children who were selected through local social-service agencies and townships.
DuPage's sheriff's office, an officers union, chiefs of police association and departments from at least nine towns combined to brighten the holidays for 70 children who received $125 from private donations to spend at Meijer. Volunteers wrapped the items after the children and 100 officers finished shopping.
Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Groh, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 109, said the annual shopping excursion is a chance for the kids to have positive contact with the officers, who gently guided them through the Meijer aisles to select gifts for their families and themselves.
"So many times you see the children bringing a list for mittens, winter jackets, bedsheets," Groh said. "Almost simple, basic things."
Oliver Stehlik, 8, of Westmont, was among the children who enjoyed their new pals.
Led by DuPage corrections bureau Deputy Brian Pufundt, Oliver selected a throw blanket for his mother and a winter hat for his father before moving on to get something for his younger sister. Encouraged by Pufundt, Oliver also planned got get something for himself as he noticed a selection of Lego toys.
Oliver also had a good time before he shopped, because he was allowed to play with light and siren controls as Pufundt drove in the squad car procession to the Meijer.
"It was just really fun," Oliver said. "I liked pressing on the buttons."
Everyone started the day by gathering at the Glen Ellyn Park District's Ackerman Sport Center at 8 a.m. After children were assigned to the officer, the procession started a little after 9 a.m. and slogged its way to the Meijer on Gary Avenue in Bloomingdale.
Children had their pictures taken with Santa after their presents were wrapped.
Along with the DuPage sheriff's office, other participating police departments included Burr Ridge, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn, Oak Brook, Warrenville, West Chicago, Winfield and Wood Dale. All of the cops volunteered their time.
"It's very rewarding when I see a lot of people really appreciating the other duties of the police officers," sheriff's Cpl. Mike Urso said.