Children treated to Christmas shopping spree |

Children treated to Christmas shopping spree

Teri Vance
Photos by Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

The first pair of tennis shoes 7-year-old Jesse tried on were the perfect fit.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he exclaimed. “I like these. They feel good.”

But before moving on to fun things for himself during the seventh annual Holiday with a Hero shopping spree at Walmart on Thursday, Jesse turned his attention to his family.

“My brother, he’s 13,” Jesse said. “He wants a cool shirt.”

He didn’t stop there. Before he was finished, he bought cereal and milk and other groceries to take home.

“We don’t really have any food,” he explained.

Over the course of two days, 286 students from the Carson City School District were paired with police, soldiers, guards and other officials and given $100 each to spend Christmas shopping at the Carson City Walmart.

“This is just amazing for the kids,” said Peggy Sweetland, director of the school district’s Students in Transition program, which serves children living in motels, cars, campgrounds or doubling up with other families. “The opportunity for them to spend $100 on their family members and themselves is like they won the pot of gold.”

Carson City Sheriff’s Detective Daniel Gonzalez, who initiated the program seven years ago, was concerned it may falter this year.

With nearly double the number of students in need this year and following on the heals of the IHOP shooting and crash at the Reno Air Races, he worried the community may have had little left to give.

“In four weeks, Carson City came together and raised about $30,000 so these kids can have wrapped Christmas presents under the tree,” he said. “I can’t say enough thanks. This is just an amazing outpouring.”

Pfc. Mark Cooney, Nevada Army National Guard, volunteered to escort children on the shopping spree for the first time this year. He drew on his former experience as a preschool teacher.

“It’s pretty amazing to be able to have some interaction with kids again,” he said. “If you remember what it was like when you were a kid, it’s pretty easy to relate to them and have fun.”

Joe Duffy, a captain with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, has learned a few tips over the four years he’s volunteered. As each child chose an item, he jotted down the price to keep track of funds available.

“I’ve got a system,” he said.

But he’s flexible as well. On their way to look at toys, 10-year-old Jazmin stopped him to look at a display of books.

She chose “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

“I love to read,” she said. “It gives me good thoughts.”

It’s a tradition Duffy said he’s likely to continue.

“I love doing this,” he said. “It’s very humbling. It’s nice to be able to help kids and show them the sheriff’s deputies are the good guys.”