100 Christmases with local heroes
November 09, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
2011 will mark the fourth year “Heroes” from the LOPD, fire deparment and National Guard will escort local kids on holiday shopping sprees. Photo submitted (click for larger version)
Meijer shoppers in Oxford should not be alarmed on Dec. 14 if they see a swarm of policemen, firefighters and soldiers invade the store.
They will just be filling in for Santa during the 100 Christmases: Shopping with Heroes event organized by the Lake Orion Police Department. This year, Police Chief Jerry Narsh is hoping to raise enough donations to take at least 100 underprivileged elementary school children from our community to the store for $150 Christmas shopping sprees.
This will be the fourth year of the event, which includes volunteers from the LOPD, Lake Orion Fire Department, Michigan Army National Guard 1775 in Pontiac, as well as law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions.
During the event's first year, 12 area kids participated. Last year, the number jumped to 56. Narsh says he easily expects Lake Orion elementary schools and his police force to hand-pick double that number of children who may miss out on Christmas this year due to people's economic struggles.
In addition to providing holiday food baskets for the families, Meijer contributes a limited number of the gift cards, with the rest bought through donations from community members and businesses.
"I know it's a lofty goal, but we're just scratching the surface of people in need in our community," Narsh said. "This year for the first time, moms - many of them single - and grandparents are already calling and asking if their kid can participate. We'll do everything we can to provide for as many kids as possible through this program."
Blanche Sims Elementary Principal Jennifer Goethals not only appreciates the program's efforts to provide kids with memorable holidays, but also the fact that true local heroes give their time to such a meaningful event.
"What I love about this program is that it fills the needs of these children in terms of holiday toys and food for their families, plus provides them with such strong role models," Goethals said. "They are truly good people and treat these kids really special for an evening."
Make no mistake, the heroes themselves get something out the event, as well.
"The children are so excited it's contagious," said LOPD Sgt. Timothy Reetz, who has participated in the Shopping with Heroes program for several years. "The event brings out the kid in me – it's so much fun shopping for toys – race tracks, dolls, video games. But the best part is seeing all of the children smiling the whole time we are with them."
Narsh knows he is trying to raise a lot of money this year. In addition to soliciting donations from individuals, he is again meeting with local businesses to secure their support. He is hoping a local pizza restaurant can donate food for the dinner that is held the night of the event to feed the kids, their parents and the hero volunteers.
"I can't think of a better charity to contribute to than one that provides a Christmas morning for so many kids," the police chief said.
Last year's donors included Meijer, the Orion Area Parade Group, Waste Management Corporation, Vette Products of Michigan, the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce, The Lake Orion Review, JLM Wholesale, M&B Graphics, North Oakland Marketing – Coffee News, Vellucci Electric, Kiwanis Club of Orion/Oxford and 45 private donors, some from as far away as North Carolina.
"People who used to live here and now keep up with the local news through the newspaper have called me after reading about the program and asked where they should send a check," Narsh said. "Other people have walked into our office and simply said how much do you need?
Donations should be made to the Lake Orion Police Association, a 5013C organization. They can be dropped off at the Lake Orion Police Department, 37 East Flint Street. Persons who know elementary-age children who may benefit from the program should contact their elementary school principals or Police Chief Narsh at 248-693-8321.
"What can I say, it's an Orion thing – we have 36 square-miles of family. People read about this effort and respond. We, along with the families of the kids, really appreciate it."