Shop with a hero

Santa welcomes everyday heroes and children when they shop at Walmart with the Shop with a Hero program.

The late Fred Rogers, a gentle soul known to generations of children, shared this advice from his mother: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Walton County residents can do the same. They can help the helpers; those first responders who help make at-risk kids’ Christmas brighter through Shop with a Hero.

“This year we are expecting an even bigger need,” said Janice Baldwin, who has worked with the non-profit, Hometown Heroes of Walton, for over 20 years.

Shop with a Hero will be held from 5-8 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 at Walmart in Monroe.

Baldwin said the organization wants to exceed last year’s goal, where heroes shopped with 191 children. Helping heroes this year include an air evacuation helicopter pilot, doctors and nurses from Piedmont Walton Hospital, Monroe police officers, Walton County sheriff’s deputies, Walton County Fire and Rescue personnel, and Georgia State Patrol troopers.

“We are getting names from Faith In Serving Humanity, the school resource officers and school counselors for 250 children to each have $150 to shop,” Baldwin said. “We don’t take applications ourselves.”

She said donations are welcome, as are volunteers to assist the heroes as they shop with each child, or to check participants in before they shop.

“Some (children) are overwhelmed and have never been able to buy whatever their little hearts desired like this,” Baldwin said. She added that the $150 amount children are given to spend on toys and clothing also must include sales tax.

“It is a privilege for our men and women at Walton County EMS to participate in the Shop with a Hero program,” EMS Director Ronnie Almand said. “We don’t think of ourselves as heroes. The real heroes are the people and organizations that donate so that this is possible.

“It is gratifying to see the smiles on all the children’s faces and hear all the excitement as they shop. It means more to them than we realize. This program is even more important, I think, this year in light of all the things people have gone through in the past two years. These children will remember this for the rest of their lives. We are just glad to be a part of it.”

“It’s a humbling experience even for us,” said Maj. Darren Vinson, youth investigations division commander for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

“Sometimes instead of shopping for themselves they get for their parents or their siblings. It’s very moving. We really do try to get students that are deserving. We really try to look at that child’s needs and wants.”

Vinson explained that SROs are in a unique position as they interact with students and school counselors daily.

“If a child has a sibling, that sibling gets to go (shopping) too,” he said.

The WCSO division commander added that the Sheriff’s Office often sponsors 10 to 15 families each holiday season. Vinson said the WCSO will enlist the help of local merchants in providing these families the items on their wish lists. He said sometimes the SROs will assist high school students in need by giving them gift cards at Christmas.

Baldwin said primary sponsors for Shop with a Hero include Walmart – both the store and distribution center – and Meadows Funeral Home. The nonprofit’s social media page thanked the following sponsors for their donations: Kona Ice, Exceptional Community Services, Barrelle Roofing, Breedlove and McElwaney Insurance Agency, John’s Supermarket, Tim Stewart Funeral Home, Alfa Insurance, Patti Souther - State Farm Agent and staff, as well as generous private individuals.

Other longtime, dedicated supporters for Shop with a Hero include the Walton-Barrow Board of Realtors and Kares 4 Kids, according to Baldwin.

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