The city has more than its share of needy, deserving kids. For dozens of them, Saturday will be “their day.”
Police officers, firefighters and ambulance medics will be waiting with $100 gift certificates for 53 of them at the annual Christmas season “Shop with a Hero” at Pekin’s Big R retail outlet.
The event, sponsored by the Police Department, connects first responders with children affected by troubling events or difficult times they experienced this year, police Public Information Officer Mike Eeten said Wednesday.
“Police officers, firefighters, teachers, sometimes neighbors, sometimes their parents” place the kids’ names in a pool from which participants are selected, he said.
A total of $5,300 in donations came this year from citizens, unions representing police officers and firefighters and Advance Medical Transport, the private ambulance service that serves the city, as well as from Big R.
“Sometimes we have to turn away kids” for lack of donations, Eeten said. “We didn’t have to last year,” when a $2,000 donation from R.L. Lewis Industries of Pekin enabled 73 children to Shop with a Hero. “They had a really good year and wanted to pass it along to the community.”
While less, this year’s total is still 10 more than the 43 that made 2014 a record year for the event.
When it begins at 3:30 p.m., each child will pick a police officer, firefighter or AMT medic volunteering to escort them as they wander through Big R’s aisles for gifts to answer their Christmas wishes.
“We’ve had them choose some strange things” in past events, Eeten said. “But whatever they want, it’s totally up to them. This is their day.”
For the volunteering first responders, it’s also one of the most rewarding among the three annual programs the police department conducts to connect with the city’s youth and their families, along with the Night Out Against Crime/Halloween Party and the summer-long Cops with Kids events, Eeten said.
“Personally, this is my favorite,” he said.
“To help kids during the (Christmas) holidays and see the smiles on their faces” as they shop, “that makes a big difference to us.”
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin