On a day of loss and honoring New York Mills police officer Ron Smith, the annual Shop with a Hero event gave emergency responders a reason to smile on Thursday, Dec. 16.

“Officer Smith carried a special gift for the need to help others when in need and had so much passion for this career,” the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post. Smith passed away after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19 on Dec. 15. “The passing of Officer Smith will leave a huge hole in everyone’s lives. Officer Smith loved his family and was a man of faith.”

Paramedics, firefighters, police officers, deputies and conservation officers from the area showed their community support while shopping with children to give gifts to their families. Children had the opportunity to check their lists twice and lead their heroes in the adventure around Walmart. At Santa’s Workshop, Human Services volunteers and Walmart employees added the presents to festive gift bags.

“It’s very nice to see that interaction between all of the teams because the children need to see that,” said Laurie Borgerding, Wadena Walmart store manager, of the emergency responders. The departments regularly partner together.

Lily Billman, left, tries to convince Wadena firefighter Nate Biederman, right, of another big present to give to a family member on Dec. 16, 2021. 
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Lily Billman, left, tries to convince Wadena firefighter Nate Biederman, right, of another big present to give to a family member on Dec. 16, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

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The frosty weather didn't stop Wadena County Human Services volunteers and and Walmart employees from sharing the holiday spirit as they added presents to festive gift bags on Dec. 16, 2021. 
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
The frosty weather didn't stop Wadena County Human Services volunteers and and Walmart employees from sharing the holiday spirit as they added presents to festive gift bags on Dec. 16, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

The Shop with a Hero program, which provides each child with a $50 gift card, expanded to 40 children this year. Borgerding said extra grant funding was available to spread more holiday cheer. Human Services social worker Karen Johnson added the program usually serves 20 children, though a few years ago they also included 40 children.

“We decided to give a little extra this year,” Borgerding said. “It’s been a tough year for a lot of people so we wanted to extend that out a little bit more and give a little bit back to the community.”

Rohan Moothart picks out a special gift for his sister Izzy, who was also along at the Shop with a Hero event on Dec. 16, 2021. 
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Rohan Moothart picks out a special gift for his sister Izzy, who was also along at the Shop with a Hero event on Dec. 16, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

While the event is her first in Wadena, Borgerding enjoyed a similar event at the Alexandria Walmart for many years. She loves seeing the different family members and pets the children pick out presents for, and how thankful the children are.

“It’s always a fun event,” Borgerding said. “They’re always so appreciative of what they can buy their family.”