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“Shop With a Hero” Program Shares Christmas Joy

Sometimes the Christmas season can be tough if you’re unable to afford gas, groceries, and gifts. Shop With a Hero seeks to make the season a little easier for families.

In 2016, then-Silver Bay Chief of Police Doug Frericks brought Shop With a Hero to the Silver Bay area, where it now serves families within the Lake Superior School District. Each year, families that could use a little extra help around Christmas time are identified by either the schools or community members.

A committee then selects the families that will be “Shop With a Hero” Program Shares Christmas Joy By Haley Searls recipients of the Shop With a Hero program. In previous years, seven to eight families have been selected. This year, four families were invited to be part of the program, equaling a total of fourteen people.

Starting in September, letters requesting donations for the program are sent to local businesses. Individual donors have also contributed, and Julie’s True Value has consistently aided Shop With a Hero, hosting a collection jar for the program in the store.

Who are the heroes with whom children get to shop? This year’s heroes included representatives from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Minnesota DNR, the Silver Bay Fire Department and Police Department, and the Two Harbors Police Department. While other communities have similar programs such as “Shop With a Cop”, the small size of the Silver Bay community leads to a tight-knit feel and lends the opportunity to invite other first responder personnel beyond just the police department.

Before Shop With a Hero officially happens, families selected for the program are sent a letter and encouraged to go to Julie’s True Value to take a look around for gift ideas. Generally, the oldest child in the family is the one who is selected to do the actual shopping on the appointed shopping day.

On the day of Shop With a Hero, the children who will do the shopping are picked up at their homes in squad cars and fire trucks with the lights flashing. The convoy travels to Northwoods Family Grille for a delicious breakfast to start the day. After breakfast, the children and the heroes go shopping at Julie’s True Value. Besides individual gifts, children receive a box of household items as well as gas and grocery gift cards for their families.

When the shopping trip is concluded, children return to Northwoods Family Grille to wrap the presents. Doug Frericks and his wife always come to wrap gifts with the children, and many times the spouses of the first responders will come to help wrap gifts as well. After all the gifts are wrapped, the presents are loaded into the squad cars and fire trucks and the children again pile into the emergency vehicles for a ride home to deliver their presents.

Silver Bay’s Chief of Police, Cole Ernest, says the community gives so much, it’s great to be able to give back. Shop With a Hero is one of his favorite days of the year because he can see the impact the program has on children and families, sharing joy with them in the Christmas season. Ernest has enjoyed building relationships with the children and families that have been part of the program, and he says it’s great to see some children that have been part of the program coming up to say hello to him.

“How much fun it is to see them kids shopping in the store and grabbing things they wouldn’t be able to get…the overwhelming surprise [of the families] of how much stuff actually comes back…a lot of times it’s a happy tear moment when we bring all that stuff back,” says Ernest.

Christmas truly is a season of giving.

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