Sgt. Larry Jones remembers growing up poor, on a dirt road in Bunnell.
“It was a small town,” Jones said. “There was not a lot of crime. But we had to make up our own games to play with because we didn’t have a lot of money. It was real nice, though.”
In 2008, Jones started Christmas With a Deputy, a program where local cops take under privileged kids from Bunnell to Target and give them each a $150 gift card to go shopping.
“My family wasn’t wealthy or anything,” Jones said. “Now the Lord has blessed me with a decent job, and I just wanted to give back to the community. There are a lot of kids there growing up with single parents.”
Now the program has spread to different law enforcement agencies throughout the county. Still, Jones enjoys being able to give back to his hometown.
“We meet behind the Town Center, and we have a little parade,” Jones said. “We get the lights, sirens and everything going. When you get to Target, Santa is there. Some buy for themselves. Some buy for their parents. It’s whatever they want to do.”
Jones remembers during the first year he started the program, he only had a dozen kids. Last year he had 100.
“The first year, I paid it all out of my pocket,” Jones said. “The next year I got some businesses on board with me, and I got to take some more. Last year we had almost 200 kids apply. I would love to get a couple of hundred kids, but we can’t take all the cops off the street for one night.”
Though Jones is retiring this year, he plans on continuing the Christmas With a Deputy Program. He hopes to spend most of his free time volunteering with other local organizations as well. The deputy program has well over 30 different local sponsors that supply the money.
“My job right now is the money,” Jones laughed. “I’m the money guy. I’ve spent 30 years working, and I think that’s enough. I think it’s time to pass the torch on to the younger guys. Now I’m going to volunteer and be proactive in the community.”
Jones just got on the board with a group that works against texting and driving. He also hopes that continuing with the Christmas With a Deputy Program will help kids have a more positive attitude toward law enforcement officers.
“I think this kind of closes the gap on what they’ve seen of cops being bad,” Jones said. “It opens up the relationship so that if the kid is having a problem, they’ll know the cops aren’t all that bad, and they can talk to us. It’s a really positive thing.”
The program will drive kids to Target at 6 p.m. Dec. 12. Jones said that each year, it just gets better and better.
“They’re crying, they just can’t believe it,” Jones said. “‘Every year it brings tears to my eyes just seeing the looks on their faces. Every child deserves to wake up to a Christmas gift on Christmas morning.”
BOX: Sergeant Larry Jones retires after serving 30 years
The following is an adapted news release from the Flagler County Sheriff's Office:
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office along with family and friends said thank you to Sergeant Larry D. Jones Saturday, Nov. 29, at a retirement party held at the Palm Coast Yacht Club.
Jones was the fifth African-American deputy sheriff hired in Flagler County. He began his Sheriff's Office career as a corrections officer in October 1984 with a starting salary of $10,500, five years after graduating from Flagler Palm Coast High School.
He transferred from the jail to the agency’s Road Patrol about six months later, and remained in the Patrol Division where he rose to the rank of corporal and then sergeant.
Sheriff James Manfre transferred Jones to the Palm Coast Precinct, where Jones served as a supervisor and assisted the public with concerns and complaints.
Jones’ personnel file is filled with commendations for his professionalism, dedication, courteousness and respectful demeanor. During his tenure, he was awarded a Meritorious Service award, Certificate of Appreciation, and Safe Driver award, among others. Jones was also recognized for aiding and working undercover with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Task Force for nine years.
He partnered with Target in 2008 and implemented the annual Christmas with a Deputy program, single-handedly organizing over 100 county law enforcement officers and nearly 100 children in need to come together annually for a Christmas shopping spree.
“I started this program with my own money. It was something I wanted to do because I grew up poor,” Jones said. “I wanted every child to have a present at Christmas and I hope to continue volunteering with this program,” he added.
Jones also assisted with Black College Reunion events on several occasions and received many thanks from the Director of Public Safety from the city of Daytona Beach.
“None of us are irreplaceable, but Sergeant Jones comes close. His most significant achievement and I’m sure the one he would like to be known for is his commitment to his wife and family,” Sheriff James L. Manfre said.