By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY -- As she waited outside the Treasure Coast Mall for other members of her group, 16-year-old Winona Brackett was excited about her shopping trip to Claire's.
But the South Fork High School student was not shopping for herself at the accessories store popular with teens and tweens.
She was among a group of visually impaired students who participated in annual shopping trips with Stuart police officers to buy Christmas presents for children from low-income families.
The shopping excursion is a 12-year tradition that the police department started and funds through the Stuart Police Officer's Association.
Each year, the group takes between eight and 12 students to the mall to help teach them the importance of kindness and gratitude.
Officers give students the age and gender of a child from a low-income family, and allow them to shop for that child.
"I look forward to it every year," said Detective Heather Rothe. "The students who participate have their own difficulties, but they take so much joy in helping families that are less fortunate."
For Winona, who has participated since elementary school, the outing has become part of the holidays.
"I feel like we doing it for a good cause. We're buying presents for kids and helping them have a better Christmas," she said. "It's nice to help people out when they're in hard times. We're doing something good and the families appreciate the gifts that I buy."
Patrol division commander Lt. Bill Pecci, who has been working with the program since its inception, called it "an extremely rewarding experience."
"To witness what these kids are capable of is truly amazing," he said. "I look forward to it each year."
Organizers work with Ruby Tuesday restaurant, which rewards the shoppers with a free lunch at the end of their excursion.