Elizabeth Zarzaycki, 11, and firefighter Ben Parshall check out some toys Dec. 5 at Meijer during the annual Christmas with a Firefighter program.

Elizabeth Zarzaycki, 11, and firefighter Ben Parshall check out some toys Dec. 5 at Meijer during the annual Christmas with a Firefighter program.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

Warren firefighters, store team up to provide local students with a merry Christmas

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published December 7, 2018


WARREN — It was like visiting Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

Shelves were stocked with Barbies, Lego sets, model cars, Nerf footballs, L.O.L. Surprise dolls and more as excited children selected their favorite toys for Christmas.

On the evening of Dec. 5, members of the Warren Fire Department played Santa Claus by taking 30 Van Dyke Public Schools elementary school students shopping at the Meijer store at 12 Mile and Mound roads.

Meijer presented each student with a $100 gift card for the annual Christmas with a Firefighter program. Every student was paired up with a firefighter who volunteered their time for the shopping spree.

Wearing Santa and elf hats, the students jingled all the way through the store — mainly stopping in the toy aisles — to pick out presents for themselves and even stocking stuffers for family members.

The students came from Carlson, Lincoln and McKinley schools. They were chosen for the event based on their family’s economic needs and/or positive citizenship and showing respectfulness while in the classroom.

McKinley second-grader Keiley Lovely dashed through the store with Sgt. Jim Stevenson while picking out Legos, new shoes, a restaurant playset and more. She also slipped in a present for her brother. She said it was “good” to go shopping “because I got stuff I wanted.”

Stevenson has taken part in the program for several years and thanked Meijer.

“It’s fun,” Stevenson said. “She picked out stuff she wanted and for her brother so he has a nice Christmas too.”

Shopping with firefighter Mitch DeCook, McKinley first-grade student Trey Pope gave the experience a thumbs-up. Lego, action figures, a laser gun and a remote-control car were on his wish list. Pope also picked out a miniature bubblegum machine.

“It made him happy,” said Pope’s mom, Kristen Bailey. “They had fun.”

DeCook made his third shopping trip with the group this year.

“The kids are great. It’s a fun night out. It’s really great for Meijer to do this,” DeCook said. “It’s a nice thing to do for the city and the community.”

The shopping tradition began more than 10 years ago when Lt. Jim Hill noticed on fire runs families who didn’t have Christmas trees up or money to buy gifts during the holidays. So Hill contacted Meijer to see about starting Christmas with a Firefighter. It’s been a team effort ever since.

“This has been one of the greatest, (most) fun activities the firemen get to do. They donate their time for a good cause,” Hill said. “It brings a lot of joy to the kids. These are the kids we see out during emergency runs or in the schools when we do fire safety programs. The majority of them are excited because they’ve been chosen amongst their peers. I had one of the kids say to me, ‘I love the firetruck. That’s my favorite thing.’”

The event is usually held during the first week in December.

“It kind of gets us all in that Christmas giving spirit,” Hill said. “Most of them buy toys for themselves and for their brothers and sisters. It’s very satisfying that Meijer supports us.”  

Santa Claus — with his full beard, red suit and candy canes — greeted the crowd, and several VDPS staff members attended the event, including Special Services Supervisor Tricia Huey-Rocheleau.

“I think it gives the families and kids an added bonus they may not have had without the generosity from Meijer and the Warren firefighters,” Huey-Rocheleau said. “It’s an event the Van Dyke staff looks forward to every year. It  definitely kicks off the holiday season and gets you in the mood.”

Every year, the families are “so appreciative,” Huey-Rocheleau said. “They’re ecstatic. There are tears of joy.”

“Kids looks up to our Warren police (officers) and firefighters,” Huey-Rocheleau said. “They are like their idols. To get the opportunity to meet one and shop with them, I don’t know if Santa can top that.”