Holiday With A Hero to provide joy for children in Carson City
With residents preparing for the upcoming holiday season, Carson City officials are preparing to make sure every local child gets something under the Christmas tree.
Public safety officials are once again collecting donations for the 14th annual Holiday with a Hero, an event that pairs an underprivileged child with a local hero to shop for Christmas presents. Each child will receive a $100 gift certificate to Walmart and the opportunity to make connections with local law enforcement, firefighters and city officials.
“This partnership with the community and first responders — whether that be the Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office, military, paramedics — it is about us giving back,” said organizer and Carson City Sgt. Daniel Gonzales. “…It is literally three hours of controlled chaos, it is all hands on deck.”
This year, more than 230 Carson City children will be in attendance, from kindergarten to 8th grade. The children are students in the Carson City McKinney-Vento Students in Transition program, meaning they who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Gonzales said an event like this helps these students have the opportunity to create more of a Christmas they want.
“In 14 years we have seen that this gives them the avenue for what Christmas means to them and it allows the freedom of what is Christmas for them,” Gonzales said. “I could think that Christmas means you get a new teddy bear under the tree, but for them it could be just getting a special brand of cereal that they normally aren’t able to have and that could be special to them.”
Gonzales said most of the time, they’ll see the kids shop for other members of their families before themselves to give their loved ones a good Christmas too.
“They are selfless,” said Peggy Sweetland, McKinney-Vento liaison.
“I would say over 80 percent buy presents for someone else with their gift cards,” Gonzales added.
But the children aren’t the only ones who enjoy the event. For the first responders and public safety officials, getting to interact with the children in a positive setting is both heartwarming and beneficial.
“A lot of times, when they see us, it’s a bad day for them or their family members and it could be traumatic if us or the Fire Department shows up, but to have this type of event we can hopefully bridge some of that,” Gonzales said. “It gives back and opens that dialogue, even if it’s only for a couple hours. They get to see that we are just people too. I put my pants on just like you, mine just happen to have a gun and badge attached to it, but at the end of the day I go home and I am a dad and a person too.”
Like every year, the students will be bussed to Walmart where they will await Santa’s arrival via CareFlight or on a fire engine. Once the jolly man in red is on scene, each student is paired with a local hero to go shop with $100 and at the end, each present is wrapped by volunteers and the students get to enjoy a free lunch and entertainment. Gonzales said the volunteer base grows each year — they’re expecting nearly 350 this year — and all members of the community participate from public safety to dentist offices to the military to medical professionals and more.
“I think it is an awesome program to see our ability to reach out to children in need and help their holiday season be a bit more joyful,” said Fire Chief Sean Slamon.
Though this will be Slamon’s first Holiday with a Hero, he participated in a similar program at his former fire station, and is looking forward to seeing firsthand the impact the program has.
“To see the eyes on a child’s face light up when that happens is priceless,” Slamon said. “For many of us who participate, I think it means as much to us as those who receive the presents and gift cards.”
Sweetland said the success of the program is being seen this year because students who participated in the program at the start 14 years go are coming back to help this year.
“It is a full cycle,” Sweetland said. “It is an investment in the future because kids who did it the first year are coming back to help volunteer. And if this program wasn’t successful we wouldn’t see that.”
For the program, community donations are what makes Holiday with a Hero possible. Capitol Ford is one of the many community businesses and organizations who donate to the event each year.
“We just want to help the community, help the kids and help the people who are in our world,” said Tim Milligan, Capitol Ford general manager. “We want to give back… that is the best thing about Carson City is that people step up to help.”
This year, the car dealership donated $3,500 to the cause — which will help pay for 35 children to participate.
“That is basically the equivalent of one grade level and that is great,” Gonzales said. “By partnering with the businesses and the community, without both this event wouldn’t be possible.”
Even the donors get some holiday cheer out of it.
“I am excited for the smiling faces, to see all the happy kids,” Milligan said.
One of the event’s biggest fundraiser is the Holiday Crawl. This third annual event allows residents to bar hop around Carson City while enjoying the local cuisine and beverage, the local camaraderie and help a good cause. Holiday with a Hero takes about $30,000 to put on each year and the Holiday Crawl last year raised nearly one-third of the necessary funds.
“It is too hard for me to beg for $30,000 so we use Holiday Crawl and take over downtown,” Gonzales said. “Restaurants, bars and shops are participating and all of our proceeds will go to Holiday with a Hero. And for $20 it’s a great value because it brings people to our beautiful downtown to enjoy what Carson City offers.”
Holiday with a Hero will be on Dec. 20. The Holiday Crawl will be held Dec. 2. Tickets for the crawl are $20 and can be purchased at Fire Station 51 on Stewart Street or online at HolidayWithAHero.com.
To donate to the event, checks can be delivered to the Sheriff’s Office at 911 Musser Street, McKinney-Vento at 604 E. Musser, Fire Station 51, or at the event website.