PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – Christmas will be a little brighter this year for 25 deserving athletes in Pinellas Park thanks to friendly deputies and a generous vendor. The retailer donated $5,000 to the Pinellas Sheriff’s Police Athletic League (PAL) as part of their store with the police event.
This Christmas is very special for 17-year-old Bianka Cruz. He is one of 25 kids who are being rewarded for their good grades and good behavior with a $100 shopping spree.
“I’m very happy, because it’s not every day you get this kind of opportunity and it’s like poor people who don’t get this opportunity to go in and get what they want,” said Cruz.
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It’s all thanks to Academy Sports + Outdoors in Pinellas Park. On Wednesday, the store hosted a Shop with Cop event in partnership with the Pinellas Sheriff’s Police Athletic League also known as the PAL program. The after-school program provides at-risk youth with opportunities to play sports and helps promote positive relationships with law enforcement.
“Thanks to Academy Sports, we have restarted our weightlifting program. We have a dance program with their help, and we do football, basketball, soccer,” said Pinellas Sheriff’s Police Athletic League Executive Director Neil Brickfield.
As part of the event the retailer gave each child a $100 gift card and also donated an additional $2,500 to the PAL program to help pay for equipment.
“It gives kids confidence. It helps them build relationships,” said Academy Sports + Outdoors Manager Shelly DuPont.
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Seeing the smiles and joy on all the children’s faces is what Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Jessica Hughey said.
“It makes you feel special, too, because it’s like you’re doing something and you’re a part of it,” Hughey said. “Most of these kids don’t come from a lot so whenever they come here, and they are given that money, a lot of these kids can buy for their parents, they can buy for their siblings or grandparents.”
For Cruz, his mother and sister are at the top of his shopping list. Although she may choose a few things for herself, she said the gift of giving is what she finds most rewarding.
“Gifts are just material things that will buy you happiness,” said Cruz. “Instead, it’s the moments you create with your family, because there will be a point where you can’t recreate those memories.”