Local first responders accompanied 43 children on a Walmart shopping spree to bring extra joy to their holidays.
The 14th annual Shop with a Hero took place Saturday morning. Hosted by the Fulton Police Department, the event provides children in need with a $100 Walmart gift card and the once-in-a -lifetime opportunity to ride and shop alongside first responders.
"(This event) shows that law enforcement are not the bad guys, and we're actually here to help provide for them," said John Geldner from the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center. "We all work for the prison and even the officers there have a bad (reputation), and this is a good community thing to let them know we're not that bad of people."
This year's participating agencies included the FPD, Callaway County Sheriff's Office, Holts Summit Police Department, Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri Highway Patrol, Auxvasse Police Department, Callaway County Ambulance District, Fulton Fire Department and Holts Summit Fire Department as well as the north and south Callaway Fire Protection Districts.
Once the participating children were dropped off at the police station that morning, they received a stocking from Dollar General and were partnered with a first responder. Many of the children said the highlight of their day was the ride in the caravan of law enforcement vehicles, fire engines and ambulances that blared through town.
"Riding in the police car around town was so cool; that was my first time," Anastasia Smith said.
Scott Peterson from the Fulton Fire Department was paired with Raineyah Thomas throughout the morning. Seated in the shopping cart's basket, Thomas was in charge of navigation throughout the store as she gave directions to Peterson as they compiled as large of a collection of slime-related toys that $100 could buy.
FPD Sgt. Lance Reams was partnered with first-time participants Madison Buckholts and Zaferia Smith on their shopping spree. When the girls raised concerns about some of the toys they were interested in being "too expensive," Reams was there to reassure them this shopping trip was there so they wouldn't have to worry about the price tags.
"You guys can get whatever you want. This is your day," Reams said to a concerned Buckholts.
Walmart employees, many who had volunteered their time to be there, ran a gift-wrapping station in the back of the store. Department Manager Kayla Wyatt was in her third year working the event and she said even if she hadn't been scheduled to work Saturday, she still would have volunteered her time.
"(My favorite part is) seeing everybody so happy. It brings a joyous atmosphere into the store. It gets a lot of people involved, and it helps people feel the Christmas spirit," Wyatt said.
Wyatt said she participated in the same program when she was a child. She praised the community for its dedication to making sure no child will have a "lonely, desolate Christmas."
Kyle Mcintyre from the Holts Summit Police Department has been involved with the Fulton Shop with a Hero event since its inception in 2006. The HSPD has been running the same event for the past 25 years, Mcintyre said, and he has been a part of nearly every single one since its inception.
"I think this makes a major impact for some of these kids who wouldn't even have Christmas if it weren't for this. This is for them that way they get a Christmas," he said.
Parent LaVelle Curry said her son Lamont Curry was supposed to take part in last year's event but wound up getting sick and missing out. This year, she said he was "so excited" to be able to take part in the full program.
"(This event) is such a blessing. It really is," Curry said.
Not all of the participating children used the opportunity to splurge on toys for themselves. Anastasia Smith was buying Christmas gifts for her younger siblings and her mom.
"It's always humbling when (the children) get something for their siblings or parents rather than just themselves," said Curtis Hall of the CCSO who was partnered with Smith. "A lot of these kids weren't going to have a Christmas, and now they get to make their own and pass it onto their families."