Austin McKelvey helped a child pick out a scarf for his grandmother for a Christmas present last year. Dylan Zurn was a shopping buddy for another kid who picked a Star Wars board game.
“To see how happy some of the kids were to get stuff was cool to see,” McKelvey said.
“It meant a lot to get to help people who need help,” Zurn said.
For the past three years, Blaine Police Explorers like McKelvey and Zurn along with police officers, police reserves and community service officers of the Blaine Police Department have partnered with the Blaine Target store to help make the holiday season a little more special for families who are financially strapped.
For the first time, the police department was joined by the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department and thus the name was changed from Shop with a Cop to Heroes and Helpers.
Donning their uniforms and Santa hats, volunteers led 30 children around the store the afternoon of Dec. 3 with almost every child getting a public safety official to themselves.
Blaine Police Officer Michelle Moore has coordinated this annual shopping event with Target since 2010 and said it was great for the kids to be able to meet both the police officers and firefighters.
“It’s great to have people who go to these homes in emergencies bond one-on-one with them,” Moore said.
Thanks to donations from members of the police and fire departments and Target, each child received $105 to spend on Christmas presents for their family and another $250 was set aside for any of the 30 kids whose family needed a little extra help with buying essentials such as food, boots, mittens and socks.
Kati Bekkum, 9, said shopping with her mother is one of her favorite things to do.
This afternoon was a whole new cool experience for her because she was able to ride in a fire truck for the first time and then shop with police explorer Sam LaCoe. Bekkum came prepared with a list of possible gifts that LaCoe totaled up and checked off the list as they went into the shopping cart.
“She’s going to be real happy,” Bekkum said as she picked up gifts for her family.
Tony Scavo was one of several volunteer firefighters who took off work for the afternoon to shop with these kids, who came from six elementary schools in the Anoka-Hennepin, Centennial and Spring Lake Park school districts.
When he is not putting out fires, responding to medical emergencies or car accidents, Scavo runs his own military hardware company in which he supplies equipment for U.S. military vehicles and hydraulic cylinders for aircraft carriers, for example.
Scavo always remembers how excited he was as a kid to meet a police officer or firefighter, so when he heard about this opportunity, he could not pass it up, he said.
“This event is new to us at the fire department and I had an interest in taking part as it was yet another way we as firefighters can work with our local kids to be positive role models and continue to give back to the communities we serve everyday,” Scavo said.
Beyond the officers and firefighters escorting them, photographers from the departments and a cameraman from local media made sure to fully document the unique shopping experience.
“I remember them saying lots of pictures would be taken,” said Kiara Penro, who pointed out that she is eight-and-a-half years old.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]