Maxine Washington wove her shopping cart through countless Walmart aisles, shopping for children she has never met.
Somewhere, there are four teenagers who will open those gifts in a few weeks.
Washington was part of a large group of volunteers who spent a few hours Thursday shopping for Christmas presents for grandchildren who are being raised by their grandparents.
The effort is through a community partnership between Sunbeam Family Services, local law enforcement agencies and other community partners.
Through Sunbeam's Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program, grandparents who are raising their grandchildren applied for holiday gift assistance for their grandchildren. About 225 families will benefit from the organizations' collaborative efforts.
In the U.S., an estimated 2.7 million grandparents were responsible in 2010 for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under 18 living with them, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of these caregivers, 1.7 million were grandmothers and 1 million were grandfathers.
This was Washington's third time to help out. She was motivated to volunteer because she knows what it was like to raise a grandchild.
Washington helped raise her grandsons off and on, and remembers how difficult it could be.
“I've been there,” she said. “I didn't get the help, but I thank God he blessed me, and I was able to do what I did.”
Law enforcement officers from Midwest City Police Department, Oklahoma City Police Department and Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office, along with TRIAD volunteers, Areawide Aging Agency, Oklahoma Recyclers Association and other community partners have all worked together to raise money and shop for children's gifts.
On Thursday, several deputies from the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department filled their shopping carts with gifts.
Capt. James Absher said the idea for a program to help grandparents raising their grandchildren came out of concern over Oklahoma's drug problem.
At one time, Oklahoma had one of the highest rates of meth production in the nation, he said. That meant a lot of parents ended up in prison.
Oklahoma continues to see a high rate of drug abuse, and thus parents arrested for drugs — and grandparents continue to fill that role for their children, he said.
“As usual, they've stepped up to the plane, and in our eyes, they're the true heroes,” he said.