WORTHINGTON — Eighteen children and their parents gathered in the seasonal section of Walmart Tuesday evening, the excitement evident on the faces of kids chosen to take part in the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office annual Shop with a Cop event.

One girl was so excited she hopped around her cart, while another clutched her shopping list and wondered, “How much longer?” Several boys were wide-eyed and ready.

Those reactions, however, paled in comparison to their expressions once they reached the toy aisles. Among the Barbies and Nerf guns, LOL Toy Surprises and action figures, they sounded ... well, like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning.

There were squeals of delight over which doll to choose, vocal deliberations in choosing one toy over another, and ponderings of whether “these” Nerf darts go with “that” Nerf gun.

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Though it couldn’t be seen behind their masks, the uniformed sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and conservation officer paired with each child were undoubtedly breaking into smiles on more than one occasion.

This is the fourth year the local sheriff’s office has hosted Shop with a Cop — and the first year that Minnesota state troopers and the area Department of Natural Resources conservation officer were brought in to help. In this year of the pandemic — when parents have lost jobs, had hours reduced or just plain faced hardships — there were more kids than usual invited to the shopping spree.

“Some of us really struggle around the holidays,” said Worthington’s Kasey Carlson, a mother of three — ages 5, 6 and 11 — who were among the young shoppers Tuesday. “I really appreciate what they’re doing for the kids.”

Her son, daughter and stepson each had a list of toys and clothing to shop for, from sweatpants and T-shirts to socks and underwear, a remote-controlled car, football and Pokémon treasures.

Five-year-old Karly Edmundson, of Wilmont, clutched her shopping list, which mom Ann Hart said included dresses, baby dolls and Barbies.

“It’s just been a rough year for us,” Hart said, not knowing how her daughter ended up on the list, but thankful nonetheless. Since her roommate was laid off, Hart has had to pay all of the household bills, leaving little extra for Christmas gifts.

Each of the 18 kids taking part could fill their cart with up to $250 worth of items, thanks to a Walmart grant and generous donations from Quality Refrigerated Services, the Back the Badge Motorcycle Ride fundraiser, and other business and private donors. Walmart, for the third consecutive year, also donated food and a gallon of milk for the families to have a nice Christmas meal.

Deputy Kristi Liepold, who coordinated the event, said the families chosen for Shop with a Cop this year were identified by the Adrian, Brewster and Ellsworth school districts, Nobles County Family Services and deputies who could see some families struggling financially.

“It’s fun to watch them shopping,” Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said. “We want to make sure they get something they want, but also something they need — and we can’t do this without the donations from individuals and businesses.”

For sisters Nevaeh, 6, and Elyssa Peoples, 4, of Ellsworth, getting to shop for their own Christmas gifts made for the Best Christmas Ever.

“They’ve never gotten to experience something like this before,” said their mother, Jennifer Fulton. “It’s a shock — we’re really thankful.”

The girls were in their glory as they pulled toys from the shelves, including dolls, pets for their dolls and dress-up clothes. Elyssa snatched an Elsa dress from the movie "Frozen," and a Wonder Woman outfit, telling her mom she couldn’t decide between the two and wanted both.

State Trooper Decesare accompanied 10-year-old Desi Thompson of Ellsworth through the store as the girl chose items not only for herself, but for her brother and her dad.

“Dad said all he wants is for his kids to be happy,” noted Decesare, who was enjoying the first-time experience with the Shop with a Cop program.

“It’s fun to see them in the store. You can see Christmas through the eyes of a child,” she said.

Kayda Mendez, 14, of Round Lake, said she used her shopping time to choose presents for her cousins and younger siblings, as well as a few things for herself.

“The experience was a bit overwhelming,” she said, as she stood next to her cart topped with two giant-sized stuffed animals. “It’s really nice that they did this. It’s a great experience.”

Nine-year-old Alyx Dahmen of Lismore was all smiles as she waited in the check-out line with her shopping buddy, Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick. She excitedly pointed to each of the items in her cart, including three different Barbies, a My Life doll, a book, an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to school on Ugly Sweater Day, a Christmas dress, two pairs of pajamas, two pairs of leggings and two pairs of jeans, earmuffs, a hat and gloves, wireless headphones, a blanket, Christmas ornament and new boots. She also found gifts for some cousins and her little sister.

“It’s nice — especially to watch Alyx doing this. She’s watching out for the family, too,” said her dad, Kyle Dahmen. “It’s a really generous thing the county is doing for the children.”