Heroes & Helpers

On Dec. 9, the major charity event Heroes & Helpers gave 100 children each $100 to spend at Target in honor of the holidays


Photo by Paige Huddleston

Officer hugs child participant in the event Heroes & Helpers “goodbye” as they finish a morning of shopping

Once upon a time, on a cold December morning, Santa’s sleigh took shape in a Target shopping cart. One hundred elves waited anxiously in line, mouths watering, preparing to grab all the toys they can find.

Atlast! One breaks free and runs to a buggy. Clinging to the side, he smiles at his gilded partner, pretending he isn’t shy. The man smiles and asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” Of all the toys in the world, the child looks up at the mister with shining eyes, and says “I only want some shirts for my little sister.”

The event Heroes & Helpers, also known as Shop with a Cop, took place Tuesday at Target with with help from Home Depot, Ellis Pottery, McAlisters and Coca-Cola. Child Protective Services and the Texarkana Police Department team up to arrange the charity function for deserving kids every year.

“Shop with a Cop has been going on in Texarkana for almost 20 years,” Texarkana, Texas, Public Information Officer Shawn Vaughn said. “This year we are able to do 100 kids and gave each of them $100 and they are able to shop for whatever they want.”

The children are given a small parade, with the departments streaming in their vehicles, sirens glaring. They are then lined up and partnered with a shopping cart, cash and a local officer.

“It’s my ninth year to participate, and just to see these kids’ faces light up and be able to see them shop with a policeman or fireman,” CPS administrative assistant Lydia Melton said. “This event is just awesome to me.”

Badges marched in from across the county. Faces from Texarkana as well as Atlanta did their part for the honored children.

“This year I was so excited to see Atlanta Police Department, Dekalb Police Department, Red Lick Volunteer Fire Department, Wake Village and of course Texarkana Police Department and fire department sponsor this event,” Melton said.

For the past five years Target has hosted Heroes & Helpers, providing smiling employees, catered snacks and the one and only Santa Claus. Going above and beyond, the corporation even helps out monetarily.

“We provide a grant to the Texarkana Police Department, so it’s a small grant in preparation for the 10,000 they are trying to gain,” Target Store Manager Lisa Sangalli said. “We also gave a 20-percent-off to make the money go further this year.”

Once the kids are ready, they are set off into the staggering aisles of toys, causing some good ole Christmas mischief.

“I got a doll. I got an Easy Bake Oven,” child participant Yasmine Faulkinbury said. “I’m going to name [the doll] Aurora.”

Other participants, like Paul O’Brien and Joseph Guildery, purchased toys that they can play with their entire family, like a baseball bat and basketball.

“We have pipes and such a big yard that we can just hit the ball across,” mother Zandra O’Brien said. “We get the girls on one side and the boys on the other, and have them hit it back and forth.”

Kids will be kids, but there are some that won’t let themselves be spoiled. A few might ask to spend the money for groceries and presents for others.

“About six years ago, I had a young man I was shopping with and he took his money and used it for his family members, and that just really hit me,” Texarkana, Texas, Fire Chief Eric Schlotter said. “I know when I was kid, I would have gone straight to the toys, no questions asked.”

Not always forthcoming, children often see officers and get scared. This major event helps them redeem their identity as a loving protector, rather than a harsh enforcer.

“Sometimes people don’t see police officers in a positive light, you know, because someone could arrest their parents or witness someone being taken out of their home,” Vaughn said, “so they don’t often associate a police officer as being a ‘good guy’ sometimes.”

Since this is true, some participants can be hesitant toward the experience but eventually open up.

“I called a child to confirm his reservation to participate today and when he heard the word ‘cop’ he thought he was in trouble,” Melton said. “I explained to him what the event was about and he got excited, and when this morning I made sure that I found him, he gave me the biggest hug. It was worth everything.”

A Christmas Miracle? Maybe. For a couple of hours 100 children are reminded that they are loved and that someone is always watching, whether it be a bearded guy in a red suite or man in a Navy uniform.

“We come out here for the kids, but it makes us feel good… it makes me feel good,” Texarkana, Texas, police officer Mark Schemer said. “Each kid is just so extremely special.”