First responders treat Mich. kids to Christmas shopping spree

For the ninth year, Michigan supermarket Meijer teamed up with first responders for "Shop with a Hero"

By Karen Bota
Ionia Sentinel-Standard

IONIA COUNTY, Mich. — There were at least 90 smiling faces roaming the aisles at Meijer in Ionia Wednesday morning. Forty-five of those belonged to local kids, and the rest to local heroes who accompanied them as together they shopped for the holidays.

For the ninth year, Meijer teamed up with law enforcement and corrections officers, firefighters and first responders for "Shop with a Hero," an event that makes the season brighter for children in need.

"We secure the funding, and they take it from there," said Scott Flanagan, store manager of the Ionia Meijer. "What great support from the local community to be so willing to participate in 'Shop with a Hero.' We couldn't do it without them."

This year's heroes came from the Ionia County Sheriff's Office and the Sheriff's Posse, Michigan State Police, Ionia Department of Public Safety, Belding Police Department, Lake Odessa Police Department, Portland Police Department, Michigan Department of Corrections, Berlin-Orange Fire Department, Lyons-Muir Fire Department, Sunfield Fire Department, Ionia County Central Dispatch and Life EMS Ambulance, said ICSO Office Manager Suana McDaniels, who coordinated with the agencies to line up volunteers.

"They were all very enthusiastic about being able to connect with the kids," she said.

Sheriff Dale Miller called it "fantastic" that so many emergency services personnel stepped up to participate in the event.

"Law enforcement, corrections, fire, ambulance, dispatch — all those came together to give back to the children, who are the building blocks of our community," Miller said. "Every child had a smile on their face, and the officers, too. At this time of year it's stressful for everybody, and this is a time the staff can decompress. They get a few hours out of the day when they can show their emotions — for the kids and for the community."

The children who participated in the event were selected by their elementary and middle school principals and social workers. The schools have a variety of programs to help families in need, said McDaniels, so they "fit the kids in the program that is best for them."

The heroes and the children braved a cold brisk wind to pose for photos out in front of the store with an assortment of emergency vehicles. Then everyone enjoyed a sandwich lunch in the Meijer cafeteria before pairing up to pick out holiday gifts together. Each child received a $100 gift card to spend on themselves and their families, and their hero helped them keep track of their spending. After checking out, the kids could get their presents wrapped by members of the Ionia High School National Honor Society.

"We've found in our interaction with the schools that it's not always about the gifts themselves; it's about their involvement with the heroes," said McDaniels. "Sometimes that is a good positive thing for the kids, even more than getting gifts for their family. It helps with the family's needs, but it's also a positive interaction with the heroes."

Miller agreed.

"One of the most important things they do is protect these children and make sure the community is safe. It takes it from the perspective of, when they see someone in uniform, something bad is going to happen to someone in their family, or something bad has already happened to someone in their family," he said. "Here, they can get on a personal level, talk, get to know each other a little bit. Hopefully it will help the kids understand that our job is to help, and sometimes we take corrective action, but it's not personal."

Shop with a Hero Cape Girardeau

WATCH LIVE: Dozens of kids from around the Cape Girardeau area are going on a Christmas shopping spree as part of the 26th annual 'Shop with a Hero' event! Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Office Cape Girardeau Police Department Wes Drury Scott County Sheriff Jackson Fire Rescue Missouri State Highway Patrol

Posted by KFVS-TV on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The 'Shop with a Hero' event is a great way to interact with and give back to the community, and it allows officers the opportunity to spend time with children in a positive manner," said MSP Lakeview Post Commander F/Lt. Kevin Sweeney. "A big thank you to Meijer for donating the money for the shopping and the refreshments. Another big thank you to Sheriff Miller and the Ionia County Sheriff's Office for organizing the event."

Each holiday season, Meijer stores host more than 100 "Shop with a Hero" events, donating thousands of dollars in gift cards so that children can celebrate the holidays — and build a bond with area police, fire and other local heroes.

"We're excited to make sure children have a holiday they might not have otherwise," Flanagan said.

Copyright 2017 Ionia Sentinel-Standard

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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