Capt. Ken Sandage with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office was paired Tuesday with two little girls, ages 8 and 7, for the ninth annual Holiday with a Hero shopping spree. But he was not intimidated at the idea of taking the girls Christmas shopping in Walmart.
“It’s a piece of cake,” he said. “I have two daughters.”
He volunteers each year for Holiday with a Hero, which pairs adults with children in the Carson City School District’s Children in Transition program, which serves students living in motels, cars or campgrounds or doubling up with other families.
“I like giving back and being part of the community and helping kids,” Sandage said.
Sgt. Daniel Gonzales started the program as Shop with a Cop nine years ago, pairing police officers with children in need. Since, it has grown to include volunteers from throughout the community, including military and private-sector workers.
“We keep doing it because it works,” he said. “We’re building positive relationships with the kids at an early age. The kids talk about it all year long.”
The day begins with a visit from Santa Claus, who arrives in a Care Flight helicopter.
“Even from inside the helicopter you can see the excitement on the kids’ faces because they know Santa Claus is coming,” Santa said. “And everyone wants a hug.”
Children are then paired with volunteers to shop for items on their list.
“I’m so excited,” said Cheyenne, 9. “I have to get shoes, a shirt and pants and tennis shoes. I’m mostly excited about Christmas.”
The event is usually divided between two days, one for elementary school kids and the other for students at the middle and high schools. However, this year, donations were down about 60 percent, so only students in kindergarten through fifth grade — 167 of the 392 in the program — were served.
“This year was a hard one emotionally,” said Peggy Sweetland, director of the Children in Transition program. “Our numbers have grown so much.”
She said that as donations continue to come in, they will be used for gifts for the older children.
Students were also given less money this year, $90 as opposed to the typical $100 gift card.
But Gonzales said the children didn’t mind.
“It’s not about the dollar amount,” he said. “It’s about their smiles.”
“Just look at their faces.”