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‘Shop with a Hero’ saves the day

After a year of fundraising, the day of the sixth annual Madison County “Shop with a Hero” finally arrived with excited children and volunteers ready to shop.

On Wednesday morning, 136 children had the opportunity to pick out Christmas gifts at the Fredericktown Walmart, thanks to the generosity of businesses, groups and individuals throughout the community. The Fredericktown Fire and Police Community Coalition, the sponsor of the event, gave each child a budget of $100 to shop with a hero.

Every year, the community partners with first responders to help ensure some low-income Madison County children will be able to cross off some items on their Christmas lists. Heroes came in all forms from police and firefighters to nurses and utility linemen.

In the eyes of the children, everyone there was a hero.

“‘Shop with a Hero’ is originally ‘Shop with a Cop’ but our community is way too small to just have one entity to pull this off,” Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis said. “So I talked to all the department heads from all the fire departments, ambulance district and we even spread it out to Black River and Auto Plaza and Kemp’s Auto Body. I mean you name it if you want to be a part of it, help out and donate and help us, then you could be a part of it.”

Hovis said the event gives first responders an opportunity to have positive interactions with youth.

“Basically a lot of us heroes are first responders, we are in these homes throughout the year and a lot of times it’s not a good situation when we are there,” Hovis said. “We may be taking mom or dad to jail, brother or sister, something like that so we wanted to have a time where we could bond with these kids, spend some time with them. A time where we could shop and give back to them and make a positive bond with them instead of a negative.”

Hovis said the event continues to grow every year and he feels truly blessed to be part of such a giving community.

“That is what it’s about for me,” Hovis said. “This is the Christmas season. It’s a season for giving and loving one another. We get an opportunity to love these kids. We bring them out here and give them some gifts and just spend some time with them, and maybe the next time we see them out as first responders in a bad situation, they will be able to go ‘hey I know you’ and have a positive bond with us right off the bat.”

As the shopping began, the children’s first decision was to pick their hero and then they were off. For some of the volunteers, this was their first time as a hero but for others they have never missed a year.

Some children knew exactly what they wanted and headed straight for that special item on their Christmas list. Others were more selective and needed more guidance from their hero.

Volunteers were on hand to help wrap the children’s gifts at the wrapping station. Some children chose to get gifts for parents or siblings, and they lit up as they told those wrapping what name to put on the tag.

Santa made an appearance at the event, making sure to greet all the participants as they arrived and offer juice and milk to the children. Just like in previous years, the smiles on the volunteers’ faces were just as big as those of the children.

“Everybody is on the nice list this year,” Santa said.

Hovis said the event means just as much to the heroes as it does to the kids, maybe even more.

“Sometimes it breaks your heart and there are almost tears too, but it’s just amazing,” Hovis said. “This program is my favorite out of all the things that we do. Out of all the things that I am involved with, when it comes to giving back, ‘Shop with a Hero’ is the best.”

Fredericktown Police Officer Michael Sletten is ready to help Navaeh Hiles fill her shopping list.

Fredericktown Police Officer Michael Sletten is ready to help Navaeh Hiles fill her shopping list.

Jazara Catchings shops with her hero for the day, Fredericktown Alderman Deena Ward at the

Jazara Catchings shops with her hero for the day, Fredericktown Alderman Deena Ward at the “Shop with a Hero” event at the Fredericktown Walmart on Wednesday.

Santa gives a pep talk to the group of heroes before the shopping began Wednesday during the

Santa gives a pep talk to the group of heroes before the shopping began Wednesday during the “Shop with a Hero” event in Fredericktown.

Santa takes a break during the shopping festivities to check out the Fredericktown Police cars outside. 

Santa takes a break during the shopping festivities to check out the Fredericktown Police cars outside. 

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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