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A blue Christmas in Martinsburg

December 12, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Despite the frenzy of children in the toy department aisles around him Saturday morning, Edward Piantek knelt calmly beside the shelf where he'd found a wide variety of toy trucks and cars.

Nearly at his $75 limit, Edward, 7, was examining each small package on the shelf to see if it contained the miniature combat van he said he really wanted.

Despite the well-stocked shelves the Martinsburg Kmart store had to offer, it didn't look promising.

Still, he said he was pretty happy with the things shopping buddy Darren Higgins, 15, a member of the new Martinsburg Police Department Explorer Post, had helped him find so far.

"I got me a gun. I got me a Lego helicopter. I got me a truck with a Skittles race car," said the Gerrardstown boy, who had come on the free shopping spree with his mother, brother, sisters and cousins.

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The children were among about 100 Eastern Panhandle kids being treated to Christmas gifts this year by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 83, which also supplied uniformed police escorts for the half-pint shoppers during the annual event.

The volunteer officers, representing an array of federal, state, county and municipal police agencies, were in charge of keeping tabs on their youngsters' purchases.

Some, like Berkeley County Sheriff Ronald Jones, even pushed the cart.

The group, which limits its membership to sworn local, state and federal law enforcement officers, has been organizing the event for seven years, said Lodge President Dick Weller, a sworn officer with Alcohol Beverage Control.

The goal is to help children in families experiencing hard times to have a better Christmas, Weller said.

The families are suggested by officers and local organizations who know their needs, he said.

The group funds the purchases through an annual telephone solicitation to Eastern Panhandle residents, Weller said.

This year, thanks to the generosity of the community, each child's purchase limit was increased from $50 to $75, he said.

If the community could be a lit bit more generous, the limit could be pushed up to $100, he said.

"It's something we feel is worthwhile," said Weller, who went around the store helping two girls and a boy pick out their purchases.

Martinsburg resident Robin Slaton, 34, said her son David Slaton, 7, was having a great time picking out his gifts.

"He's been so excited all week long," said Slaton, who said she was letting him get anything that tickled his fancy.

An officer who comes in to the Family Dollar store where she works told her about the event.

"I think it's great that they're doing this for the kids," said Slaton, who said her family was having a tough time this Christmas and could really use the help.

"We hadn't bought anything," she said.

The pre-holiday shopping spree was a big help, said Edward's mother, Leslee Piantek, who said it's tough at Christmas with young five children.

"This is fantastic. The kids are really enjoying it," said Piantek, who brought two nephews who often stay with her along.

About 100 Eastern Panhandle children were suggested by the Salvation Army for a similar shopping spree event sponsored by Sheetz on Saturday, said Salvation Army Program Director Dorothy Blankley.

Those children and their shopping buddies - employees at Sheetz stores in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties - added to the toy department bustle when they arrived at Kmart about an hour after the Fraternal Order of Police group arrived.

Each child had $100 to spend on filling their Christmas wish list, said Sheetz District Manager Bob Campbell.

"The employees work all year to raise money to take these kids shopping. It's a very special day for us," Campbell said.

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