MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WKRN) — Flashing blue lights lit up the outside of Walmart in Mt. Juliet Thursday night as a large group of police officers crowded into the building.

However, it wasn’t a typical police call. Instead, they were met with 43 smiling faces who then joined them one-by-one on a shopping spree. The annual event known as Christmas with a Cop has benefited children in need in Mt. Juliet for over two decades.

“We’ve been doing this probably since 2001 with our department, so many, many years, and it grows every year,” said Capt. Tyler Chandler, spokesman for the Mt. Juliet Police Department.

(Courtesy Mt. Juliet Police Department)

Police raise funds for the event throughout the year, and on one night in December, anywhere from 40 to 50 children get to spend $200 to $250 on items from the store. Chandler said it’s typically a range of toys and clothing, but some also have family members on their minds.

“It really breaks your heart when they pick out stuff for their mom or dad, or their siblings,” he said. “When this is for them, but they’re trying to buy for someone else.”

Some items children picked out on Thursday included stuffed animals, a comforter set and a basketball hoop. Occasionally, Chandler said officers will dig into their own pockets to help provide more items for a child when it’s a bit above the purchasing price.

Many of the children who are selected for the program are kids who officers have come into contact with in more serious situations.

(Courtesy Mt. Juliet Police Department)

Police also consult with school guidance counselors to select children who might benefit from the program. Often times, Chandler said guidance counselors are familiar with the children’s situations at home and which children might be most in need.

“We do have some that reach out to our department, and we go through their file and determine if they qualify for the program,” he said. “There’s also children here where we’ve responded to incidents, and they may have lost their mom and dad and we get to bring them shopping.”

The joy was visible on many children’s faces as they ran around Walmart filling their shopping carts Thursday. Other donors, including Under Armour and Abby’s Love, also provided gifts for the kids. Afterwards, the children and their families joined officers for a meal at Jonathan’s Grille.

It’s not uncommon for children to share a hug with the officers before they return home. The spirit of the event ultimately helps foster a stronger bond between police and kids in Mt. Juliet, but Chandler said officers are just happy ensuring they “have a good Christmas.”

(Courtesy Mt. Juliet Police Department)

“The purpose of this event really is to take care of the community,” he said. “That’s the main purpose of it. What we get out of it is stronger relationships, but we’re truly just wanting to give back and help these children.”

Chandler said the Mt. Juliet Police Department is grateful for the community’s continued support of the event. Several people donate to the cause throughout the year, in addition to sponsorships from area businesses and Walmart.

“It’s a great program to help the kids,” he said. “We’re here as a police department to serve and protect our community and we want the children to know that we’re here for them, here to help them with whatever they need, even in situations that are not meant for law enforcement.”