with gallery: More than 80 kids from Washtenaw County 'Shop With A Hero' for Christmas gifts
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The sight of a ton of police officers and firefighters in the front of a store can give a lot of people pause or be a cause for concern.
For 84 children from around Washtenaw County, that sight sent their spirits soaring Thursday evening.
Those kids were participating in the annual Shop With A Hero event taking place at two Pittsfield Township Meijer stores. Police officers and firefighters from around Washtenaw County helped those children and their family members spend up to $50 on anything they wanted in the store.
Pittsfield Township Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger said it was the thirteenth time the event had been put on in Washtenaw County and the second time it had been spread across two different stores at the same time. He smiled as he watched his officers, firefighters and other officers from around the county, try to keep up with the kids they were helping.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to talk with the kids, to go out shopping with the kids and have a little bit of festivity around Christmastime,” he said. “And, it provides them a little somethign for Christmas too.”
In 2011, Pittsfield Township personnel went to the Ann Arbor-Saline Road Meijer for the first time after exclusively holding the event at the Carpenter Road Meijer. Harshberger said this was the second year the event would be held at both locations and, to get the necessary personnel, he extended the invitation to all Washtenaw County law enforcement agencies and fire departments.
He said 10 different departments participated this year between the two stores, in addition to Pittsfield Township. Among the departments were the Ypsilanti Police Department, Eastern Michigan University Police Department, Northfield Township Police Department, Milan Police Department, Ann Arbor Police Department, University of Michigan Police Department, Pittsfield Township dispatchers, Saline Police Department, Ann Arbor Fire Department, Superior Township Fire Department and the Saline Fire Department.
The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office held a similar event on Wednesday evening, their annual "Shop With A Cop" event.
At the Meijer on Carpenter Road, most of the kids, their families and their officer or firefighter headed straight for the toys on the store’s south side. Some simply shouted directions to their much-taller partners, instructing them what to grab, while others wandered the aisles making conversation about what they’d like for Christmas. A few strayed toward the clothing in the middle of the store or the video game section toward the back.
After the shopping was over, the kids at the Carpenter Road Meijer got to enjoy a snack following their shopping excursion. The children who went to the Meijer on Ann Arbor-Saline Road were treated to a pizza party right before their shopping trip.
Meijer donated the $50 gift cards, the snacks and the pizza, Harshberger said, extending a thank you to those who made it happen.
Harshberger said it’s a great experience for the officers and firefighters, who so often are used to seeing people on their bad days. He said the positive vibes of the holiday event is the main reason why so many different departments volunteered to send officers and firefighters.
Among the gathered officials from local departments was Eastern Michigan University Police Chief Bob Heighes. He was working with three children to find their gifts and had brought along two officers from his department.
Heighes said his department was all too happy to pitch in.
“I know both Eastern and Ypsilanti (police) are happy to participate,” he said.
Reginald Dalton, director of the Hikone Community Center, brought along five kids to the event: Thomas Weston, Joseph Edwards, Quan Bass, Isaiah Wilson and Dakobe Lattimore.
Dalton said the event comes at an important time in the children’s lives - at around the point when they’re starting to determine how they feel about police, they are having a very positive interaction, he said.
“The experience to walk around with the police officers right in a time where they’re developing ‘Police officers are scary or ‘Police officers are good’ is very positive,” he said.
The five children from Hikone who were out shopping Thursday night were full of smiles and bolting back and forth through the toy aisles and Dalton struggled to keep up, running back and forth, shooting video with his cellphone. He said the kids had huge smiles when they were told they’d get to participate in this year’s event.
“It helps a lot, it really helps a lot,” he said. “It gives them a chance to get things for Christmas they otherwise wouldn’t get.”