Carson City Sheriff's Office Detective Steve Olson places a Barbie doll in the basket for 6-year-old Zitlalic during s past Holiday With a Hero event.
Holiday with a Hero might look a little different this year, but the giving spirit for the children who benefit from it never changes.
The program, serving Carson City School District’s students who qualify for McKinney-Vento Students in Transition program living in motels, vehicles, campgrounds or with other family members or are in foster care, will see some minor modifications this year.
The event takes place Dec. 15 at the Carson City Walmart, 3200 Market St.
Students are bused to the store and given an opportunity to shop for themselves and loved ones after being paired with a uniformed volunteer. The children enjoy the chance to find gifts, meet Santa Claus and enjoy lunch as a reminder that they matter as they browse the store with a uniformed officer who helps them find what they need or want.
Christie Perkins, special projects coordinator for Carson City School District, said staff members and volunteers are all working ahead of time to make sure each child “will still get that individual shopping experience with one child and one hero.”
The program attempts to provide about $100 to students, with elementary and middle school students shopping at the Walmart and high school students receiving gift cards. But the “heroes,” representing police officers, firefighters, the National Guard, military members, first responders and health officers from Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County and neighboring communities often will try to contribute more of their own funds if they choose out of their own generosity, Perkins said. But between that and a lanyard, the child’s guide always has a way of knowing how to help the child.
“Permission slips include a need and a want from the students to help the hero, and we know kids change their minds so we have an idea what they need and what they’re interested in,” Perkins said.
The morning typically includes a greeting from Santa Claus and the event includes a meal, which, in the past, has been on site at Walmart. Santa has been brought in via helicopter in the parking lot or he might welcome the students at a designated Santa station on site. This year, once the students have completed their shopping and their gifts have been loaded onto their buses, they will be transported back to their campus for lunch along with the gifts they chose.
As of Thursday, there were 233 children accounted for in this year’s program, with 130 students expected to attend Walmart and the remaining who either are older youth, a group of about 65, or had indicated they preferred receiving the gift cards, Perkins said.
Program founder and organizer Meliah Gonzales, who established Holiday with a Hero with her husband, CCSO Capt. Daniel Gonzales, said although COVID-19 has impacted some of its abilities, its overall goals haven’t changed, which are to make sure children engage with a uniformed officer in a positive manner, help meet the child’s basic needs, whether it’s providing shoes, socks, underwear or items of hygiene, and to give a child a happy Christmas.
“From my opinion, Holiday with a Hero is worth our support because every child is deserving,” Meliah Gonzales said. “Kids are special to my heart and always have been met. It’s an easy thing to do. Their circumstances aren’t beyond my control. The circumstances they find themselves are beyond their control, and this is one way we can support kids in our own backyard.”
To raise funds for the event, a Holiday Crawl Benefit will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Adams Hub for Innovation, 111 W. Proctor St., where community members can enjoy food, special drinks and live music. All proceeds benefit Holiday with a Hero.