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Posted on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

More than 80 kids from Washtenaw County 'Shop With A Hero' for Christmas gifts

By Kyle Feldscher

The sight of a ton of police officers and firefighters in the front of a store can give a lot of people pause or be a cause for concern.

For 84 children from around Washtenaw County, that sight sent their spirits soaring Thursday evening.

Those kids were participating in the annual Shop With A Hero event taking place at two Pittsfield Township Meijer stores. Police officers and firefighters from around Washtenaw County helped those children and their family members spend up to $50 on anything they wanted in the store.

Pittsfield Township Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger said it was the thirteenth time the event had been put on in Washtenaw County and the second time it had been spread across two different stores at the same time. He smiled as he watched his officers, firefighters and other officers from around the county, try to keep up with the kids they were helping.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to talk with the kids, to go out shopping with the kids and have a little bit of festivity around Christmastime,” he said. “And, it provides them a little somethign for Christmas too.”

In 2011, Pittsfield Township personnel went to the Ann Arbor-Saline Road Meijer for the first time after exclusively holding the event at the Carpenter Road Meijer. Harshberger said this was the second year the event would be held at both locations and, to get the necessary personnel, he extended the invitation to all Washtenaw County law enforcement agencies and fire departments.

He said 10 different departments participated this year between the two stores, in addition to Pittsfield Township. Among the departments were the Ypsilanti Police Department, Eastern Michigan University Police Department, Northfield Township Police Department, Milan Police Department, Ann Arbor Police Department, University of Michigan Police Department, Pittsfield Township dispatchers, Saline Police Department, Ann Arbor Fire Department, Superior Township Fire Department and the Saline Fire Department.

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office held a similar event on Wednesday evening, their annual "Shop With A Cop" event.

At the Meijer on Carpenter Road, most of the kids, their families and their officer or firefighter headed straight for the toys on the store’s south side. Some simply shouted directions to their much-taller partners, instructing them what to grab, while others wandered the aisles making conversation about what they’d like for Christmas. A few strayed toward the clothing in the middle of the store or the video game section toward the back.

After the shopping was over, the kids at the Carpenter Road Meijer got to enjoy a snack following their shopping excursion. The children who went to the Meijer on Ann Arbor-Saline Road were treated to a pizza party right before their shopping trip.

Meijer donated the $50 gift cards, the snacks and the pizza, Harshberger said, extending a thank you to those who made it happen.

Harshberger said it’s a great experience for the officers and firefighters, who so often are used to seeing people on their bad days. He said the positive vibes of the holiday event is the main reason why so many different departments volunteered to send officers and firefighters.

Among the gathered officials from local departments was Eastern Michigan University Police Chief Bob Heighes. He was working with three children to find their gifts and had brought along two officers from his department.

Heighes said his department was all too happy to pitch in.

“I know both Eastern and Ypsilanti (police) are happy to participate,” he said.

Reginald Dalton, director of the Hikone Community Center, brought along five kids to the event: Thomas Weston, Joseph Edwards, Quan Bass, Isaiah Wilson and Dakobe Lattimore.

Dalton said the event comes at an important time in the children’s lives - at around the point when they’re starting to determine how they feel about police, they are having a very positive interaction, he said.

“The experience to walk around with the police officers right in a time where they’re developing ‘Police officers are scary or ‘Police officers are good’ is very positive,” he said.

The five children from Hikone who were out shopping Thursday night were full of smiles and bolting back and forth through the toy aisles and Dalton struggled to keep up, running back and forth, shooting video with his cellphone. He said the kids had huge smiles when they were told they’d get to participate in this year’s event.

“It helps a lot, it really helps a lot,” he said. “It gives them a chance to get things for Christmas they otherwise wouldn’t get.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 10:20 p.m.

I'm Thomas Weston's mother. I am so blessed that he was part of this experience. It was a way for him to see policemen in a positive way and to receive some new toys. I will never get over the feeling of being on the receiving end of organizations like this, now that I am in a different situation. Especially being that I have donated time, money, and items to all sorts of different organizations most of my life. It is wonderful to see things come full circle and goes to those in need.

An Arborigine

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Please stop propagating overuse of the word "Hero", it has no meaning any more. While it is a nice community outreach initiative for these individuals work with youth, they hardly all qualify as "heroes".


Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 2:43 a.m.

I agree, the label "hero" does get used far too much in our society. Hero used to be reserved for people who deliberately risked their own lives in order to save the life or lives of someone else, or else died trying. These days it seems all good deed doers are considered hero's which takes the special meaning out of the word. People who donate time or money to help others are good, caring, empathetic, generous people, but not hero's, in my opinion. However I do believe police and firefighters are hero's due to the nature of their jobs, not because they took kids shopping.

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

It's what they do 365 days a year and not just this one event that makes them heros in my eyes!


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

Wow, How sad and pathetic of a human being must someone be to read an article like this and find a negative aspect. Once a year the newspaper will cover the positive things that our police officers and firefighters do on a regular basis and someone like you feels a need to tear it down. Police and Firefighter unions are some of the most charitable iin the area, I have seen our public safety employees volunteer time and money to several causes in the area without ever a thankyou or mention of it in the local media. I do consider our first responders heroes, so I guess my vote negates yours, and Meijer gets to continue calling them heroes and you can crawl back into your miserable life and reevaluate what kind of person needs to tear down an article like this. Merry Christmas.


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Is it $50 per child or per family? The wording is not clear. And that wouldn't be quite fair if it was per family, look at the zirker boys in the picture, they'd have to split it betwen 4 where as a single child family would get the full amount? Clarifification please.


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

It was $50 per child. If two children from the same family participated, they each had $50.


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

Kyle, 2 things about your otherwise very nice article: Did you really have to list the 5 kids' names from Hikone Community Center? I feel like they and their parents or guardians should be entitled to some privacy. Also, the story would feel more complete if you explained the selection process for the children who were invited to participate. (Some of us readers might know a family or two who could benefit if the program's repeated next year, and word-of-mouth advertising is underrated!) Thanks for sharing such a joyful story about our local Everyday Heroes getting caught doing something so positive.


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

Hikone and the other one on Maple is the poorest in Ann Arbor. Everyone knows who the recipients ares. $50 is not much to spend on family gifts. At least it is better then nothing.


Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 11:05 a.m.

I grew up receiving gifts from toys for tots and it made a huge positive impact on me as child. I am still grateful to have received those gifts .