FRASER — The spirit of Christmas was in the air Dec. 12, when 35 children excitedly hurried up and down aisles at the Fraser Meijer store with Fraser police officers and paid-on-call firefighters pushing shopping carts behind them.
Meijer’s annual Christmastime program pairs underprivileged children, ages 5 to 13, with a local emergency responder and a $100 gift card to use however they see fit.
“This is very important to my kids,” said parent Genaro Ramirez as his son, one of his three children, grinned while examining a new toy. The experience, he added, helped make their Christmas better.
In all, about 20 Fraser officers and firefighters participated, helping the children stay within their price range as the youngsters excitedly loaded Legos, Nerf guns, sports equipment, figurines and dolls into shopping carts.
After picking out their presents, the kids and their uniformed escorts headed to a back room of the store, where there was gift-wrapping. This year, Meijer also handed each family an additional surprise, a Christmas dinner, complete with a turkey.
Santa and face painting were on hand, as well.
Fraser firefighter Brandon Kelley said this year was his first time participating in the program. Paired with one young girl, Kelley was struck by the fact that she mainly wanted to shop for her brother, mother and grandmother. He had to urge her to find things for herself, he said.
Officer Renee Campion, a Fraser Public Safety officer in charge of coordinating the program, said most of the children invited into the program came recommended from their schools. Others were recommended by Fraser officers.
Some officers allowed the kids to go a little over the allotted $100, paying the difference out of their own pocket.
“We let kids get a little extra stuff sometimes; it just depends,” Campion said with a laugh. “It’s a great experience for them, and they do love going out with us. They think it’s so cool.”
In Fraser, Meijer’s Shop With A Hero program has been going since originally set up in 2000 by then-Fraser DARE Officer Lisa Pettyes, and the program has grown from there, Campion said.
“The kids’ expressions are priceless,” said Fraser Meijer store director Jay Mahabir. “The excitement is priceless.”