Ayden Lopez loaded his shopping cart with a Nerf gun, remote control car and bike helmet, among other items recently.
“This is cool,” said the 8-year-old South Haven boy. “I could buy what I want and shop with a firefighter.”
Ayden was one of 20 South Haven youngsters treated to a special shopping trip through the annual Shop with a Firefighter program hosted by the South Haven Fire Department.
The department and its volunteers have been taking youngsters, identified through the two local elementary schools, on shopping trips just before Christmas for nearly a dozen years.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is we go above and beyond for the community,” said lieutenant/paramedic Halie Wise, who coordinated the program along with firefighter/EMT Carter Garcia.
Wise said the department is heavily involved with the community through its outreach programs including the shopping trip, Santa Patrol, Goblin Patrol and annual fire prevention programs.
“It is really good to step away from helping people when they are sick and being able to help and make kids happy,” Wise said.
Garcia said the department raised nearly $3,000 this year through generous donations from individuals and businesses in the community.
The evening began with youngsters arriving at the fire station. They were transported via fire trucks and ambulances to Walmart in Portage where they were paired with a firefighter and shopped for themselves and their families.
After the shopping spree, they returned to the station where they were treated to pizza donated by Domino’s Pizza of Portage. Representatives of 1st Source Bank volunteered to help youngsters wrap presents and Santa made a surprise visit.
“This is a way to give back. It’s all about the community and the kids and it gives the firemen joy,” said firefighter Paul Valentas.
“I like being able to help the kids,” said firefighter Billy Lundy. “And this is a thing we can do to help children.”