Making their lists and checking them twice

Local children buy gifts during Shop with a Hero event BIG RAPIDS — Standing at the Meijer check-out ready to purchase gifts for her family, 8-year-old Winifred glanced down at her shopping list. She had bought her mom exactly what she wanted for Christmas. Shopping with Osceola County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Salinas, Winifred was one of 10 children who participated in the first Shop with a Hero program at Meijer. Each child was given $90 to shop and paired with a local hero to help them pick out Christmas presents for themselves and their families. Heroes included Reed City police officers, Evart firefighters, Osceola County Sheriff’s Deputies and Michigan State Police Troopers. The shoppers — in first through fourth grade — were nominated by their school counselors. “The Shop with a Hero event is an opportunity for the children to pick out some items for their families and themselves, that they wouldn’t normally be able to get,” said Kim Vetter, MSP Community Service Trooper. “It gives them also an opportunity to form a relationship with the police officer or firefighter and spend some quality time with them.” While parents waited in a back room at Meijer, children picked out presents, had their photo taken with their hero, wrapped presents and talked with officers. “When they get here, they’re a little nervous and they’re not quite sure what to think of everything,” Vetter said. “As you see them come back from shopping, they’ll be grinning from ear to ear and having a great time.” Evart firefighter Melissa Oles bonded with her 8-year-old shopping buddy, Aubrey, as the pair looked for presents for Aubrey’s parents, brother and dog. “It’s (great) getting to know the kids in the community,” Oles said. “We actually live in the same town, and I went to school with her mom. So this is fun.” The program was sponsored by the Meceola Children’s Council in coordination with local law enforcement agencies, Meijer, Crossroads Chevrolet, Ice Mountain, Dr. Amy Keller, Head to Toe Salon, Phil’s County Line Service and the Evart Chamber of Commerce. Meijer also donated a cart filled with $30 worth of groceries to each child and their family. Meijer Store Manager Chris Schwandt said the store hopes to expand the program in the future. “This is just the start, and we want it to be much bigger in the future,” Schwandt said. “We got started a little late this year, so we want to get going on it earlier next year so we can have a lot more opportunity for people to give and for kids to get more.”