Volusia Sheriff’s Office hosts a trio of holiday programs for families in need

They are like a harbinger of the holidays, and soon you’ll see them spreading Christmas cheer.

Sounds like elves, but in fact these folks are taller and in a different sort of uniform.

They are deputies of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, and they, along with school resource deputies, youth service employees, and others, will be paired with a family in need. They’ll fan out across Walmart, a cart replacing a sleigh, shopping for items to make the season bright.

It’s the Shop With A Deputy program, says Volusia County Sheriff Michael J. Chitwood, one of three holiday programs his department works on with the Volusia Sheriff’s Youth Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)3. Participating families are nominated by school resource deputies, school counselors, and others within the school system. 

The Shop With A Deputy program provides a $250 gift card that can be used on such items as clothes, groceries, and toys. 

“Many of these children, these families, are victims of crime, or they have gone through some sort of tragedy,” says Chitwood. “It may be that a loved one has died, or a house has caught fire or flooded, and they need this during this time.”

He says that although the children and their families may be struggling in life, the holiday programs are put into place to make things better and brighter, even if it is just for a while.

And that covers many aspects.

“The families can spend the $250 any way they want, and you will be amazed at the number that their first stop isn’t the toy section,” says Chitwood. Their first stop is the food section. We had one family raising three, three boys and they bought 150 or 200 pounds of rice in the big 50 pound bags.

Chitwood was shocked. 

“I asked what they were going to do with the rice. The man said, ‘Do you know how far meat fish and eggs go when you mix it with rice and you have to feed three growing boys? Oh, yeah, this will be good. This is two months worth of food here for us.’ 

And then each kid got to pick one toy out. It’s amazing to see it’s not this, this run to the toy section. It’s a lot of families go and buy the essential staples that they need.”

In addition to the Shop With A Deputy program, there is also Deputies Toy Shop which distributes donated toys to families who live in the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office patrol zones. Here the number of families served is based on the amount of toys collected. Deputies recommend families from their zone as participants.

Holiday Heroes is also one of the programs with deputies handing out donated toys on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to kids who were victims of a crime or witnesses to a crime, and who may not have received anything for the holidays.

Chitwood says the programs, which have been around for several years now, have a real impact on the community. Some activities also help year-round, such as funding a summer camp or a trip to SeaWorld.

“Last year, we reached more than 500 families,” says Chitwood. “We were able to touch that many and help mark items off their lists.”

Everything is funded with monetary and in-kind donations. One man donates pallets full of new toys. Another philanthropist always remembers the group each year. And Chitwood says Walmart has been a great corporate partner, even providing meals after the Shop With A Deputy program for the officers and families. 

But beyond the gifts, there are faces as deputies and families connect. 

“What these families get to see is the person behind the badge,” says Chitwood. 

“And what we see are human beings not much different than you that God has put behind the eight ball for some reason. So we’re really exactly the same. 

“They’re trying to make a living and support their family, and we’re trying to make a living and support our family. Today, we’re going to try to help you at least have a good day or help ease the stress of the holidays on you,” he says.

“It just always tugs at my heart.”


The Volusia Sheriff’s Youth Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)3, accepts monetary donations to assist with the Volusia Sheriff’s Office holiday programs.

Send a check or money order payable to VSYF to:

1691 Providence Blvd.
Deltona, FL 32725

Or donate via credit card by calling:

Patrick Evans-Hylton is an award-winning journalist, having covered a wide variety of topics in broadcast, electronic, and print media since 1995.