With the holidays growing near, a local tradition, more than 30 years in the making, is once more being provided for children in Carter County.

While the fun doesn’t officially begin until later in December, applications for the Heroes with Hope of Southern Oklahoma's annual Shop with Cops program are now available through Nov. 20.

Over the years the program has expanded past the city limits of Ardmore and into the broader Carter County area, said that agencies executive director Melissa Woolly.

While the Ardmore Police Department and the Carter County Sheriff’s Department have remained the largest participants, officers from Lone Grove and other agencies have also begun joining in on the fun. However, one detail has remained the same — the goal of making a difference in the lives of area children.

“The program is intended for children that have been victims of crime and needy children, lower income children, to serve those families,” Woolly said. Any child under the age of 18 who is selected as a participant will get to spend an evening with his or her new law enforcement partner.

Multiple children can be listed on applications, as well, Woolly said. “We’re not just going to pick and choose one child out of the home, we take all of the children in the home.”

The total number of children selected is dependent on the amount of donations received throughout the year, Woolly said. The total amount of money spent on toys of the children’s choosing and necessities selected by parents is also determined by donations.

As many as 200 children have been taken on the excursion in previous years.

“We usually take two trips and we’ve been known to make three per night,” Woolly said. “We have two nights that we take very large groups, which everyone sees with the lights and the sirens and the caravan to Walmart.”

The outings are slated for Dec. 10 and 11 this year, Woolly said. On those dates, the children will meet their shopping partner at the Ardmore Police Department.

“They get to go in the police unit and go to Walmart,” Woolly said. “There’s lights and sirens and the kids get to play. They fix the radios where it goes car to car and they get to talk on the radio and play with the sirens.”

The children’s excitement is typically noticeable, with some children belting out jingle bells over the unit’s loud speaker on the way to Walmart last year.

However, as exhilarating as the night may be, the children usually don’t all race for the toys, Woolly said. “The majority of the kids are wanting clothing, that’s a very popular item. Shoes are very popular and among the other things that we may not think about is bedding.”

Other items commonly chosen by the children include sheets, blankets and pillows, Woolly said.

Although the application deadline is towards the end of the month, referrals from schools and other individuals may continue to be accepted, depending on the amount of funds and donations that become available.

“We will continue to take kids as we have the funds available, we may continue to take kids until Christmas night,” Woolly said. “We’ve been able to do that, so the numbers continue to increase even past the night that the public actually sees us going.”

Applications can be picked up at the Ardmore Police Department or at the Heroes with Hope of Southern Oklahoma office, located at 16 E. St. NW. To make a donation, call 580-319-8571 or email heroeswithhope@outlook.com.