Carts whirled through the Wadena Walmart as children shopped for Christmas presents during the Shop with a Hero event on Thursday, Dec. 12.
Children came to purchase presents for their family members, and with a wish list of items, they led police officers, firefighters and paramedics to find the desired items.
“It’s nice to be able to take these children out in this time of year and they want to buy gifts to give and not for themselves. I haven’t had one kid that’s been looking for themselves so it’s nice to see that they want to give their families stuff and make them happy, and it makes them happy by doing it,” said Officer Aaron Schiller, Wadena Police.
With the children bringing a spirit of giving, volunteer elves wrapped presents in a dash and directed children to the checkout, Santa or wrapping stations. The public safety officials also paused for pictures with Santa, listened to the children’s lists, calculated costs alongside the children and helped pick items. Wadena County Human Services social worker Karen Johnson says the event is a way to foster positive relationships between children and law enforcement.
“The priority is if they have had experience with law enforcement in their family before and sometimes it’s been negative, sometimes positive but … this program is to foster a positive, for kids to see law enforcement in a positive light,” Johnson said.
As the children and public safety officials shop together, they have a $50 gift card from Walmart to spend. The children know what they’re looking for, from bath bombs to dolls, action figures, ponies, flowers, gloves, and jewelry.
“Surprisingly enough a lot of these kids are bargain shoppers. They want to make sure that they get everybody equally enough gifts, and that’s pretty cool to see,” Schiller said.
The children finish the night with elves who wrap their presents while they write gift tags for family members. Bobbi Wegscheid, Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary teacher, volunteered for her first year and found the experience fun, busy and exciting.
“The best is just seeing the kids come through so excited to pick gifts for their family members knowing that they picked it themselves,” Wegscheid said.
Becky Shultz also wrapped presents for her first year after making a point to shop during the event in previous years.
“You fly by the seat of your pants,” Shultz said in describing the wrapping experience. “You never know what shape or size something’s going to come in and so it’s speed wrapping at its best and so you do the best you can, it’s fun.”
With the presents wrapped and Christmas only a matter of days away, the children are ready to give their presents.
“The kids and their reaction,” Johnson said about her favorite part of Shop with a Hero. “They’re a little bit hesitant in the beginning, it’s kind of a new situation with so many people around, but then they come back from shopping and they’re just usually glowing and happy.”