Christmas will be a little merrier for children in need when they go shopping for toys with Lincoln Police Union officers.

The officers are part of Santa Cop, a program started by the union in 1980 that gives Christmas gifts to the city's less fortunate children who otherwise might have “fell through the cracks.” The organization's mission is to serve children whose families did not receive assistance from other sources, experienced an unexpected sickness, suffered an injury or lost their job which evolved into a financial crisis, their website says.

Every year, the program hosts an auction and silent auction fundraiser about a month before Shop with a Cop, a day where police officers and children go to stores and pick out toys. The auction is where the program gets the majority of its money for the shopping. Items are donated by local businesses and the event is set up by volunteers from all over Lincoln.

This year's event was hosted Sunday at the Center for People in Need. Shannon Karl, charities coordinator for the union, said they raised approximately $25,000.

"It's a good turnout today," Karl said, noting that there were about 250 people that came to the auction, 50 more than in previous years.

A portion of the revenue also goes to fund Toyland, a holiday assistance program that helps families served by the Center for People in Need.

Live-auction items included a baseball bat signed by Kansas City Royals outfielder and Lincoln native Alex Gordon, a football signed by Husker coaching legend Tom Osborne and Nebraska’s three Heisman Trophy winners, three volleyballs signed by this year’s Husker women’s team and a guitar signed by country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Williamson Honda of Lincoln also donated a 2007 Honda Fit.

The Honda's new owner is Michael Rumbaugh, a corrections officer who was volunteering at the event. Rumbaugh got involved with Santa Cop after he began dating his girlfriend Briana, a police officer at the Lincoln Police Department whose family has been volunteering at the event for the past couple of years.

"I didn't even know about it before that," he said. "I thought it was a good cause to be a part of."

Rumbaugh said that when he was younger, he was the recipient of a similar program when his family split and came into a time of financial struggle.

"And now I'm able to financially help kids just like that," he said.

Rumbaugh was looking to purchase a new car anyway and knew that there would be one at the event, as Williamson Honda typically donates one.

"I could give money to to this or to a dealership," Rumbaugh said. "At least now I know where it's going and that it's helping a good cause."

Bidding against Rumbaugh for the car was Phil Corkill, who has been coming to the auction for at least 23 years with his friend Roger Cook. The two attend auctions as a pastime, and the Santa Cop auction is one they look forward to every year.

"It's a fun one to come to," Cook said. "You get to come out here, eat food, get some Christmas gifts and help out the kids."

Both men noticed that this year's event garnered more community support than usual.

"It's getting bigger," Corkill said.

Cook and Corkill expect to be back next year, as does Rumbaugh. Most who come to the event are just trying to help a good cause, Karl said.

And, in Rumbaugh's words, being an active participant is the best part of the program altogether.

"The biggest return on investment is getting to take those kids out," he said. "You can tell how thankful they are."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or hmuslic@journalstar.com.

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Reporting intern

Hana Muslic is a reporting intern.

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