Third-grader Emily used her a large portion of $100 Walmart gift card to buy Christmas presents for her loved ones Wednesday morning.
She picked out gifts from her brother and cousin, along with some pajamas and make-up for herself.
“I did it because they were sad that they couldn’t come too,” Emily said.
The 11th annual Holiday with a Hero provided 230 Carson City kids with the opportunity to buy Christmas presents Wednesday morning. The Holiday with a Hero event partners local law enforcement, firefighters and other public safety officials with students in the Carson City School District’s McKinney-Vento program to give the kids $100 to shop for presents for the holidays.
The 230 kindergarten to fifth-grade students were bussed from the elementary schools to the Market Street Walmart where they were greeted by Santa Claus flying in via CareFlight helicopter.
Screams of joy erupted from the mass of children as they rushed to give Santa a group hug, then were paired with a hero volunteer to start shopping.
Volunteers included Carson City and Douglas County sheriff’s office, Nevada Division of Forestry, Capitol Police, Juvenile Probation, National Guard and Nevada Highway Patrol. Community volunteers also helped wrap presents and Advanced Dentistry by Design even closed their office for the day so that they could all help the kids.
For Sgt. Mike Orton of the National Guard, this is his second year participating and he plans on being at the event every year that he can.
“It is a great experience for the kids and me,” Orton said. “It’s such a great opportunity to give back to the community and you really see an immediate impact.”
Walmart was overtaken as the kids and heroes flooded the store, picking out presents to buy. Many of the kids focused on toys, clothes and shoes though some kids used their money to help buy food for others.
Peggy Sweetland, the director of the McKinney-Vento program, said that she had kids buying food like peanut butter, jelly and other foods to bring to their families for Christmas.
“This is why this event is important,” Sweetland said. “It just pulls at your heartstrings.”
With so many kids and heroes inside the store, Walmart had to bring in extra personnel to help out with the event, but Store Manager Stacey Martinez said everyone was happy to help, and some even came in on their day off to volunteer.
“We have never not had an associate willing to participate,” Martinez said. “They champion it and get behind (the cause) and they are all so excited.”
Many of the heroes agreed that the event was not only beneficial for the kids to get Christmas presents, but to help them see law enforcement and other uniformed officers in a positive light.
“It is better to be able to interact with the kids in our uniforms because it shows the kids that they can come up and talk to us whenever,” said NHP Trooper Dan Lopez. “We did this last year too and we love just getting to hand out with the kids and going shopping.”
Each child was given a $100 gift card to spend, but most volunteers Photos them to pick out whatever they wanted and paid the difference out of their own pockets. One officer paid for a new bicycle for one little girl out of his pocket. Many said that they were more than willing to do it, because they couldn’t bring themselves to say no to the kids.
After the kids picked out and paid for their presents, the kids got to take pictures with Santa while volunteers wrapped each present so that the kids could have something to open on Christmas. Volunteers wrapped everything from clothes and Barbies to Christmas hams.
Seven-year-old Jazlien had her cart filled with Frozen merchandise, and even taught her hero, Chief Deputy of Juvenile Probation Ali Banister all of the Frozen characters.
“(My favorite part) was shopping with you Miss Ali,” Jazlien said. “I liked shopping for clothes and toys. It was good.”
Two of the new school resource officers were in attendance, and they got to connect better with the kids they served in the schools. One student told Deputy Jessica Chrzanowski that he would say “hi” to her when he saw her in the school now.
“This shows how well we all work together as a community for a common goal,” said Jason Danen, a Carson City firefighter. “And that is one of the great things that our community does.”
Many of the organizers believed the collaboration of all the different agencies and community members was the best part of the event.
“You can see all of the different uniforms, and it doesn’t matter what uniform you are wearing, we all came together for the kids,” said Carson City Sgt. Daniel Gonzales. “We couldn’t do this without the funding from the Carson City community, and we all serve different functions, but we all serve for this.”