'All hands on deck' for Holiday with a Hero

Angelica Soliz, Coast Guard boatswain’s mate second class stationed in Tahoe City, prepared to wrap gifts after shopping with Fremont Elementary School kindergartener Michael Ricci. Soliz has been in the service for eight years.

Angelica Soliz, Coast Guard boatswain’s mate second class stationed in Tahoe City, prepared to wrap gifts after shopping with Fremont Elementary School kindergartener Michael Ricci. Soliz has been in the service for eight years.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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Shopping with Carson City’s students during the annual Holiday with a Hero event is best described as three hours of “controlled chaos,” Carson City assistant sheriff and event co-founder Daniel Gonzales said.

Walmart associates and partners transform aisles or move pallets and barricades in about 24 hours and local heroes take over the store to welcome children to pick out presents for their family members or themselves.

“It’s like all hands on deck,” Gonzales said. “We can’t do this without everybody’s help. To even get to today – the donations, we cannot do this without the support of the community and all the donations we’re blessed with.”

Community partners, including the public safety, military and medical personnel who help students find the perfect gifts for their families or themselves and wrap them up as holiday gifts, work hard to prepare the store in anticipation of approximately 230 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Transportation changes were made again this year. While in previous years, all buses came together at once, they were staggered this year since the school district was short on buses, with two having to go back a second time to bring in middle school students, Gonzales said. With a little more than 100 volunteers, some also had to double-back for shoppers. In all, there were about 158 students at the event with about 21 foster students and 58 high school students expected to shop Thursday.

Walmart manager Jose Eseberre called the event a “true partnership” between the Holiday with a Hero board, the local agencies that participate and the Carson City School District and its McKinney-Vento program. Eseberre, who said it’s his second year being involved, said his associates are so passionate about the event, they’ve come to expect it on an annual basis.

“They really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s really appealing for them. They stay long-term. I know Tom, our Santa Claus (for the event) was part of the Walmart family at one time.”

Gonzales said Walmart as a whole has embraced the program’s growth annually, which has helped Holiday with a Hero but also shows a downside.

“If it grows, that just means there’s more need in the community,” Gonzales said. “Ideally, I guess it’d be that we don’t have an event because there’d be no need.”

But for others, they see the day as an opportunity for the students to celebrate a time to focus on their families or themselves. Mayor Lori Bagwell, standing among the volunteers as they waited for the first busload of children to enter the store, was excited to welcome Carson City’s youth.

“It’s their day to just have it all about them, right, and what’s amazing to me is how much they buy for their family members instead of themselves, and so it’s really, really fun to watch kids’ eyes light up, then they get something for their mom and dad that they can’t normally do,” Bagwell said.

The heroes walking around the store with their assigned student quickly had their cart filled up with toys, clothes and games and answered questions or explained where to find items as needed.

It was a chance to pair Carson City Detective Cody Bindley with Empire Elementary School student Azalea Albillo, 8, to help find presents for her.

“It’s just good to give back to the community,” Bindley said. “I’ve done it a couple of years, but it’s the first year since doing it as a detective. … So far, we’ve picked out some winter clothes, and she likes slime and we’ve got some Play-doh foam.”

Elsewhere, Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong received his exercise from the get-go with Mark Twain Elementary kindergartener Yonatan Ramos Calix, who had him racing between various sections.

“This is so much fun, he’s running me really good,” Furlong said. “He’s shopping for himself. We made the run through the toys, then we did the shoes, we did the clothes and now we’re doing the toys. This is wonderful. He knows exactly what he wants.”

Students are designated $100 to spend for their shopping needs, and they’re entitled to spend on themselves or for family members.

Gonzales called the event a “unique partnership.”

“We’re blessed to do this for (18) years,” he said.


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