Young athletes given $100 gift cards during Pinellas Park 'Shop with a Cop' event

Christmas will be a little brighter this year for 25 deserving, young athletes in Pinellas Park thanks to friendly deputies and a generous retailer. The retailer gave away $5,000 in gifts to the Pinellas Sheriff's Police Athletic League (PAL) as part of their Shop with a Cop event.

This Christmas is extra special for 17-year-old Bianka Cruz. She's one of 25 kids who are being rewarded for their good grades and good behavior with a $100 shopping spree.

"I'm pretty excited, because it's not every day you have this type of opportunity and there's like less fortunate people who don't get this opportunity to come in and get what they want," Cruz said.

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It's all thanks to Academy Sports + Outdoors in Pinellas Park. Wednesday, the store hosted their Shop with a Cop event in partnership with the Pinellas Sheriff's Police Athletic League also known as the PAL program. The afterschool initiative provides at risk youth with opportunities to play sports and helps foster positive relationships with law enforcement.

"Because of Academy Sports, we've got our weightlifting program going again. We have a dance program going with their help, and then we do football, basketball, soccer," 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 create relationships," Academy Sports + Outdoors Manager Shelly DuPont said.

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Seeing the smiles and joy on all the kids faces is what it's all about for Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Hughey. 

"It just makes you feel special, too, because it's like you're doing something and being a part of it as well," Hughey said. "A lot of these kids don't come from much so whenever they come here, and they're given that money, a lot of these kids might shop for their parents, they might shop for their siblings or a grandparent."

For Cruz, her mom and sister are top of mind on her shopping list. While she may have picked out a few items for herself, she said the gift of giving is what she finds most rewarding.

"Presents are just physical things that will buy you happiness," Cruz said. "Instead, it's the moments that you create instead with your family, because there's going to be one point where you won't be able to recreate those memories."