Valparaiso Meijer was filled with plenty of laughs and smiles as Hebron Police, Kouts Police, Meijer, and United Way of Porter County worked with other community partners to help give kids and families a Christmas they won’t forget. Children paraded the shopping aisles on Monday and Wednesday, picking out Christmas gifts for members of their families and, as a little bonus, a few things for themselves. This is the second year United Way of Porter County has spearheaded the effort, boosted by Meijer’s local and even nationwide support of United Way.
In all 31 children from the Hebron and East Porter County school districts participated in the shopping events.
Because Christmas shopping can be a bit stressful for some, United Way of Porter County made the experience fun-filled. Each child was paired with a police officer from their district and a United Way of Porter County volunteer, with their lists in hand, exuding excitement and holiday cheer.
“There is a lot of energy, and it’s a lot of fun here. The officers like it just as much as the kids do,” said Joshua Noel, Hebron Police Chief. “This gives us the chance to interact with the community in a more positive way, and it gives the kids a chance to see officers in a great light. We want the kids to wake up and have a merry Christmas, and to help their families have a big smile on their face. If that happens, it's a job well done.”
The positive impact on the community is clear.
“This is an event the whole community can rally around,” said Kim Olesker, President & CEO for United Way of Porter County. “It means a lot to see everyone come together and help make this day special.”
United Way of Porter County worked on behalf of the police departments and school systems with Meijer to make the outing possible.
“Meijer loves to give back and looked to United Way to help them engage in the community for the holidays,” Olesker said.
The shopping events also were made possible by Demotte State Bank and Hebron Chamber of Commerce.
“You can’t put a price tag on something like this,” said Nathan Kleefisch, Superintendent of MSD of Boone Township. “We want to work as hard as we can to make sure the best is provided for these kids and the rest of the community. Everyone who was part of this day has helped change the lives of these young people and their families. There is no doubt all of them will have a great Christmas thanks to this.”
Lt. Michael Miller of the Kouts Police Department said this is the first year that the department has participated in the shopping event, and they were able to serve 16 children.
“The biggest benefit for us was to see the smiles on the children’s faces. To see a child smile, especially at Christmas time – you can’t beat it,” Miller said. “Kids and adults alike loved it. We even arranged for Santa and Mrs. Claus to meet them at the entrance of the store.”
At the top of the shopping list for children: toys, of course. Others purchased winter coats and other winter wear, and Miller said many of them picked out gifts for their family members, too.
The Kouts event didn’t end at Meijer. Miller said after shopping, everyone gathered at Kouts Elementary School for a workshop to help the children wrap their presents. That event, punctuated with snacks and drinks, was made possible by supporters including Subway, Kouts Dollar General, and Family Express. It’s a testament to how events spearheaded by United Way of Porter County can snowball in the community.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without United Way and Demotte State Bank,” Miller said. “When you have a whole community come together like this, it’s just fantastic to see. It was an awesome experience for all of us.”
To learn more, or to participate in or support outreach programs like this, visit United Way of Porter County online here.