By Ian Hicks
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING – Christmas came a couple weeks early on Thursday for more than a dozen area children who were treated to a shopping trip they won’t soon forget.
On Thursday, Pirates Charities Winter CARE-a-van stopped at Target at The Highlands to accompany nearly 15 students from Bridge Street, Wheeling and Triadelphia middle schools as they took part in the annual Shop with a Cop program.
Sponsored by the Wheeling Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38, the Shop with a Cop program has become a holiday tradition in which local law enforcement partners with Ohio County Schools to identify students in need and take them shopping for toys, clothes, books, games and more.
“We let them buy pretty much anything they want for themselves,” said Wheeling police Sgt. Tom Howard, lodge president. “It’ll make a better Christmas for them. Some of them wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise.”
Representing the Pirates were starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, relief pitcher Justin Wilson, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, play-by-play announcer Tim Neverett and the Pirate Parrot. In addition to several Wheeling police officers, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and Bethlehem Police Department also were represented.
The smiles were bright as the children fanned out through the store with their new buddies in tow. Many wasted no time heading straight for the toys and electronic gadgets, while others took a more practical approach.
“I couldn’t talk him into a toy,” Wilson said of his shopping buddy. “He went all for the clothes.”
Sanchez, meanwhile, received a crash course on Disney princesses, My Little Pony and the latest in Barbie fashion as he combed the toy aisles with Triadelphia Middle School sixth-grader Leona Camp. And some of the children didn’t shop just for themselves, but also made sure they had something to bring home to their siblings.
For years, the Pirates have broken into groups and traveled around the region to interact with fans in surrounding communities through the Winter Caravan. This year, however, they decided to turn the caravan into a “CARE-a-van,” transforming it into a community service-based initiative rather than a series of autograph signing meet and greet sessions…