Walmart closed down its tire department for the entire morning Wednesday and opened up its gardening section to allow for table setup where gifts were wrapped, volunteers were briefed and the store as a whole welcomed about 240 children from all of Carson City to come in and shop for a few hours.
For many, it brought out the best in Carson City and its neighbors.
Carson City’s 16th annual Holiday with a Hero at Walmart on Wednesday was a record-setting year, bringing 242 children — up from last year’s total of 231 — including foster children, to shop with law enforcement, first responders and other military and agency members to buy holiday gifts for family members or themselves with $100 gift cards, or about $24,200 in gift cards provided for the event. The gift cards were provided from the fifth annual volunteer-led Holiday Crawl that happened on Dec. 7.
Peggy Sweetland, special projects coordinator and foster care and McKinney-Vento liaison for the Carson City School District, said approximately 280 volunteers assisted.
The kids, coming from various schools on bus in the morning, were welcomed by the volunteers from the area’s law enforcement agencies, the National Guard and military and health offices. Santa Claus also made an appearance by the CareFlight helicopter. He and several other mascots greeted the excited children, who lined up to be paired off with a volunteer to shop for gifts and eventually receive help with purchasing and wrapping.
Students enjoyed the chance to buy games, toys, clothes or other items while their partners assisted them in finding the right sizes, kept track of their spending or generated ideas if they needed inspiration.
Deputy Teresa Duffy of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with Brayden, 8, a third-grader from Empire Elementary School, who, after some time in toys and sports, ended up looking at clothes.
“This is my favorite time of year, coming to shop with these guys,” Duffy said. “(Brayden’s) totally on task and knows what he wants and he goes after it, and I appreciate that! He’s such an athlete.”
Duffy said the event is a great partnership between all the local agencies to come together around the holidays.
“I’m glad that we get to participate with Carson City and get to team up with them and participate in this event. We are neighboring communities and we affect one another, so it’s really awesome.”
Sgt. Daniel Gonzales of the Carson City Sheriff’s Office credited the support of Sheriff Ken Furlong and Walmart marketing manager Ralph Larios for ensuring the program continued successfully this year. Larios said showing support for the community as one of the nation’s biggest retailers is a priority.
“For us, we do it mostly for the kids; we’re big on the community involvement,” Larios said. “This thing means a lot to us. We like to be there for the community. We want to be the face of the community and help out people as much as we can.”
It also reaches him on a personal level, he added.
“It brings enjoyment to me — believe or not, I used to be one of these kids who didn’t have anything, so for me to be able to take something like this and to run it and help out other kids, it’s just amazing,” he said.
Furlong said while he enjoys being with the children, he also strongly supports the men and women who contribute their own time to help local youth.
“The organization is just amazing, and I think it shows most in the diversity of the heroes that are out here,” he said. “That speaks to the entire community. From (the University of Nevada, Reno) to Carson City, (everyone) is spending their Christmas together.”
Carson Mayor Bob Crowell spoke highly of the men and women serving their communities, many of whom gave up a day off from Carson City, Douglas County and neighboring communities to spend time with the children.
“We live in a wonderful, caring community,” Crowell said. “It has a strong sense of place, strong sense of pride, where we do our best to look after everyone. And days like today with Holiday with a Hero, this shows what a community can really do to make life a little better for those who may not have been able to experience the things that other kids do.”
Crowell noted that the students weren’t shopping for themselves but for family members and loved ones.
“That just makes your heart glow,” he said.
Holiday with a Hero, along with Feast with a Hero, a fundraiser in which uniformed heroes serve meals at SlotWorld Casino, helps to raise funds for the McKinney-Vento’s Students in Transition program assisting the area’s underprivileged children living without a permanent home, typically in motels, cars or other spaces with family members. More than 500 of Carson City’s students are considered homeless, nearly 45 of whom are in motels and 20 of whom are in shelters. The youngest of the homeless in the school district are 4 years old and the oldest are 21.
The program also provides 90 gift cards to high school students in transition. In all, 10 schools participate in Holiday with a Hero, including Carson City School District’s six elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and Carson Montessori.
Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes said he’s thankful for the residents’ support of the program.
“I think it’s a wonderful showing of community spirit,” he said. “I’ve always loved that about Carson City. It seems they’re goodhearted people.”