SEBRING - When Savannah Roux, 9, arrived with her aunt and her three siblings Monday afternoon at the Sebring Police Department, she became worried.
"I thought we were in trouble," she said.
But, her worries were unfounded. Inside the police department, the area around the department's Christmas tree was covered with gifts for Savannah and her siblings. And that was besides a bicycle for each child.
It wasn't the only place in town Monday where children smiled while getting gifts. Some 75 children received gift cards for making purchases at Kmart in the Lakeshore Mall, thanks to the 32nd annual Underprivileged Children's Christmas Shopping Spree held for children of needy families. Robert Saffold, a former teacher, along with Florida Sportmen's Inc., based in Sebring, was instrument in bringing it together every year.
At the police station, Brenda Cole, the aunt of the four children, who had done so much for them already, had her eyes fill with tears as the children seemingly opened an endless number of gifts that included clothes, games and even a Play Station.
"I couldn't have done all this," said Cole, who was resigned to giving some small gifts to the children.
Cole said the children were removed from their mother. She said the children's grandmother had problem getting custody, so she volunteered some 6 1/2 years to take them in.
"I didn't want them separated," she said.
She said she tried to get help from another organization, but that didn't work out.
Vicki Hicks, administrative assistant to Police Chief Tom Dettman, said the police department found out about the family from people in the community. She said a police officer posted information about the family and the need on the department's Facebook page.
That resulted in some donations, she said. Hicks was particularly touched when a mother called and said her two young daughters wanted to donate a purse with various small gifts. The children also put $5 into a wallet.
In all, the children received 48 gifts, including the bicycles, Hicks said.
Paradise Duarte, 15, one of the four children, said she liked the iPod shuffle she received that plays music.
Earlier Monday, Kmart became a lot more crowded as some 75 children, most accompanied by parents and some by siblings, as well, spent gift cards with a value of at least $50, although some were more. A crowd of parents and children showed up at the mall for the event.
Saffold said they gave each child a ticket with the number and those whose numbers were called got the gift cards. He said he and others failed to raise enough money to provide a gift card for each child that showed up.
However, he said, children who did not get gift cards would get a gift at a church event today.
Children who received cards differed in what they wanted. Jasmine Fernandez, 13, wanted lots of candy and a game.
Alexis Rivas, 14, wanted new clothes, she said.
But when Deonta Kerney, 15, went inside, his first thought was not getting a gift for himself, but instead one for his mother. He got a picture frame for her, but was unsure what else she would want.
Rayshaun Daniels bought a supposedly, according to the package, unbreakable helicopter.
"He needs something unbreakable," said his mother, Nakeema Thomas.