Shop with a Hero once again filled the Fredericktown Walmart with hundreds of smiling faces from both adults and children. The seventh annual event went off without a hitch helping 140 children make Christmas a little more cheerful.
The morning of Dec. 11 started off at 7:30 a.m., as children filed in through the doors and found themselves a hero to help them shop. In this case, the heroes were made up of firefighters, police officers, sheriff deputies, highway patrol officers, electric linemen, city workers, school personnel and many others who helped make the event possible throughout the year.
Thanks to the generosity of businesses, groups and individuals throughout the community, each child had the opportunity to pick out his or her Christmas gifts. The Fredericktown Fire and Police Community Coalition, the sponsor of the event, gave each child a budget of $100 to shop with a hero.
“We have so many volunteers and community members who work hard to raise the money for this event every year,” Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis said. “Walmart is always so great allowing us to take over the store and our school resource officers put so much work into making sure the kids who need the help are getting it.”
While some of the children had a hard time deciding what they wanted, others went straight to the toy of their dreams. Nerf Guns and My Life Dolls were two hot ticket items this year. One shopper went straight for the tablets and had just enough money left over to get a case as well. Another went for a bargain and chose three large tubs of peppermint candies for $5 each.
Hovis said, whether the child chose a doll, a game, or candy, it did not matter as long as they were happy. He said there is usually a lot of slime and candy going out the door.
In several situations when the child would have a few dollars left to spend some of the heroes would suggest getting some candy at the checkout. One child who was excited about the idea of getting candy made his hero promise it was their little secret.
“The entire experience gets you into the Christmas spirit,” Hovis said. “I look forward to this day all year long. The children light up when they see Santa, and it is fun to see the kids and all the volunteers cut loose and have fun shopping.”
Hovis said the experience is just as impactful for his officers and all the other volunteers involved.
“Whether you are there helping a child shop, wrapping their presents or handing out cookies and milk, you can’t help but love every minute of the morning,” Hovis said. “For that time you are shopping with that child, nothing else matters. Everything is about them and what they want. They do not have worry about life. They just get to be kids.”
Hovis said the positive experience with first responders also gives the children a positive bond instead of a negative.
“The sad part is that, as first responders, if we are at their home throughout the year it is probably not a good situation when we are there,” Hovis said. “We may be there taking mom or dad to jail or brother or sister. We want to have a time where we can bond with these kids in a positive situation, a time where we could shop and give back to them.”
The atmosphere was definitely positive and it was easy to see that the children were just happy to be there and were all making new friends with each of their heroes.
“Everybody is on the nice list this year,” Santa said. “I wouldn’t miss this event. I’ve been watching our heroes all morning and their kindness would make even the Grinch’s heart grow.”
Hovis said the event is for the kids and to ensure they all have a wonderful Christmas, but it means just as much to the heroes, maybe even more.
“Out of all the things I’m involved with, when it comes to giving back, Shop with a Hero is my favorite thing to be a part of,” Hovis said. “Sometimes it breaks your heart and there are almost tears too, but I want every child to feel loved and experience the magic of Christmas.”
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at email@example.com