by BETH ALTENA
Santa, police and plenty of smiles marked the seventh annual Shop with a Hero event at the Rockford Meijer Sunday, Dec. 12. All on volunteer time, Rockford police, usually with the help of a spouse or family member, enjoyed helping children choose items from a list of necessities and at least one treasured toy of their choice.
Each Christmas season the officers, assisted by a spouse, friend or family member, help children from Rockford schools choose items such as boots, hats, snowpants, pajamas and more, working off a list of needed items provided by parents or guardians. The Rockford Lions Club, one of the service organizations that donate to Shop with a Hero, also turns out on the day of the event to assist.
According to Lynda Nance, who joined the Rockford Lions in October, the event is just one of many causes the group supports. “My dad was a Lion for over 30 years. When Polly VonEschen invited me to join, I decided it was time,” she said. “All we do is raise money and do good things. It’s a great group and so much fun.”
This year’s Shop with a Hero was the first for Officer Mike Thomas. “It’s fun to shop with other people’s money,” he said. “It’s fun getting things that people need.”
Fifth-grader Zachary Smith said he felt lucky because his Shop with a Hero was Dave Jehnzen, who is Rockford’s D.A.R.E. officer. Smith said he believes the lessons he learned in D.A.R.E. will stay with him all his life. One of the techniques the program taught him is to “give the cold shoulder” when pressured in a bad situation. “You just turn and walk away. You don’t have to say a thing.”
Meijer Store Director Phil Morrow said many Meijer stores hold similar events with police, ambulance and fire department personnel. The company annually donates tens of thousands of dollars for the program. “It’s the right thing to do,” Morrow said. “This is touching the community, giving back and helping these families out. These people probably shop here every day.”
Morrow also pointed out that the kids invariably pick out items for someone else, a sibling or friend. “They aren’t just buying things for themselves, they are thinking of their brothers and sisters.”
While children were enjoying snacks and sharing letters with Santa, Morrow took the time to speak to them and gave them one more present, a $5 gift card. “Think of someone else who could use this and give it to them. This is your way to give back, too.”
Morrow had to offer a little more advice to one grateful girl who knew exactly who she had in mind. “You should probably think of someone besides your Shop with a Hero officer to give the card to.”