Sgt. Jonathan Rogers, of the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, said, “This is such an important day for us as officers. It really warms your heart to see kids, who might not have as good a Christmas as some, get essentials like coats, shoes and clothes. It is a nice bonus that we get to interact with the kids in a positive situation, too. After a year of planning and months of fundraising, we are so excited to see these children enjoy themselves.”
The day started at the Clarence Brown Conference Center, where firefighters, police and emergency response officers served the children and accompanying parents breakfast before the shopping began. Santa and Mrs. Claus were on hand to hear Christmas wish lists and to visit with the shoppers. Children and officers alike posed with Santa for photos during breakfast in the conference room, which was filled to capacity.
“We are grateful for all the donations we received for today. Wal-Mart donated all the food, paper goods and two bicycles. Their employees cooked the biscuits and sausage for us and Doug’s Place prepared the eggs. Waffle House, Arby’s, Domino’s Pizza, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut all donated the raffle prizes and countless businesses and citizens gave money to help make today possible,” said Rogers.
Even before the shopping began, the gift giving started. Following breakfast a raffle was held with prizes, which included a dozen coupons and gift cards for local restaurants. However, the children anxiously awaited the top raffle prizes, two bicycles.
The first to win was Anna, 8, who said she already had a bike but planned to give her old one to her friend who did not have a bike. “We can ride bikes together now,” she said.
After the prizes were given, the parents and students prepared for the most important part of the day, the shopping trip.
Emerson Police Chief Stan Bradley told the crowd one of his favorite parts of the event was the long escort to Wal-Mart. Police cars, fire trucks and ambulances from all over the county escorted 15 buses filled with students and guardians to the next phase of the day’s activities. Complete with emergency lights flashing and sirens wailing, the caravan left the Clarence Brown Conference Center and headed east on Highway 20 to Interstate 75. The escort traveled south to the Main Street Cartersville exit and then down to Highway 41 where it ended at Market Place Boulevard.
Investigator Hollie McKamey, of the BCSO, said, “One reason we take the long way around to Wal-Mart is because we enjoy it so much. It is great seeing the kids’ reaction to riding in the escort.”
Once the buses arrived at the store, the children were paired up with public safety officers from 19 various organizations.
“Everyone here today volunteered their time. Other than the public safety personnel, we have 15 bus drivers and approximately 20 police and fire explorers from surrounding high school programs,” Rogers said.
Victoria Jennings, 16, attends Woodland High School and volunteered to help the shoppers. “I am here because I want to see these kids have as good a Christmas as I get,” she said.
Corey Elrod, 16, of Woodland High School and a member of the Fire Rescue Explorers program, said, “This is my second year volunteering with Shop with a Hero. It’s a lot of fun but it sure is hectic. It really is nice, though, to help kids who don’t have as much,” he said.
This year was the first year Michelle Smalls and her four children, of Acworth, have attended the event. “This is really nice. It helps a lot, especially for people who are in a tough situation this time of year,” Smalls said. She and her children, Deondra, 11, Lavada, 9, Shedarian, 7, and Mikel, 5, shopped with Lt. Coy Stewart, of the Cartersville Fire Department, and Cpt. Marcus Warren, of the Bartow County Fire Department.
Stewart and Warren, both 15-plus year members of their departments, helped the kids stay within their $150 price limit. Each child is given $100 to spend only on clothing and the remaining $50 can be spent on whatever the child wants. Most opt to spend the $50 on toys. Shedarian chose a remote controlled truck and a Nerf gun for himself but also picked out a toy for his younger brother at home. Only school-aged children are invited, so Smalls left her younger three children at home. Shedarian said, “I like to share. I want my brother to get something for Christmas, too.”
Amid the aisles crowded with excited shoppers was Bartow County K-9 officer Jeremy Woody and his police dog, Halo.
“I got to shop with a couple kids first before I got K-9 Halo out. He’s very excited to be here and the kids love him. Shopping with the kids, getting them some clothing and toys that they really want is a pleasure. It is a good feeling to know that they are taking home some things today that they picked out themselves. It is very exciting and a privilege to be here today to take part in this,” Woody said.
At the checkout line, Shedarian and his grandmother, Judy Connel, waited for his mom and three sisters to finish shopping. Connel, who has 28 grandchildren, said, “This is such a good thing they are doing here. I was watching at breakfast and all the kids looked so happy. A lot of people are out of work nowadays. They don’t have the money for Christmas, so this is really good. I’m here to help my grandkids pick out some things. Their parents are having a really hard time and without this the kids might not have gotten anything for Christmas. They both worked for a temp service and now the temp service says they have no work. They are all staying with me and I live on disability. It has been really hard to make ends meet, but we will do it somehow. I am not going to see them end up on the street,” Connel said.
The day ended with all the happy shoppers and their gifts transported back to the Clarence Brown Conference Center. Smalls said her four children can wear the clothes they picked out but all the presents are being wrapped and put under the Christmas tree until Christmas morning.