With some help from Santa and Mrs. Claus, it started to look a bit like Christmas over the weekend for dozens of Grundy County children and families.
The group Grundy County Heroes & Helpers teamed up with area first responders to put on the inaugural Shop with a Local Hero event.
The scene at the Morris Walmart was filled with holiday cheer from one aisle to the next.
Timberlie Jahn, who helped organize the event, said the group was excited to help more than 70 kids to get into the spirit of the holiday season.
Throughout the year, the Grundy County Heroes & Helpers worked to find a way to address the community’s needs. The group wanted to help area families experiencing difficulties, whether they were a lost job, illness, or other circumstances.
Each participating child was paired with a local hero whether it’s an area police officer, emergency medical technician or firefighter and received $150 to shop for necessities such as clothes, coats and boots.
The Grundy County Heroes & Helpers received support from several different organizations to help make the event possible.
Jahn said some toy drives were held to help provide the children with items to take home, and they received donations to support each participating child with necessities.
Mason Bryant, 12, of Verona, said he was excited getting the opportunity to shop with his sister Lacie Bryant, Officer Ben Zwolinksi of the Morris Police Department and his helper Lisa Taylor.
“He’s having a blast,” she said.
When asked if he’s been a good kid this year, Bryant replied, saying “I think I have.”
Bryant turned to reference his shopping cart, saying “we’ve got a few things actually in here.”
He said he is looking forward to spending the holidays with his family.
Elsewhere in the store, volunteer Collette Nelson was shopping with Logan Steffes of the Morris Fire Department, Dana McNease and her brother Devin McNease.
“It’s awesome just to see the smiles on their faces,” Nelson said.
Nelson and Steffes said they didn’t approach their shopping with much of a strategy trying to beat the rush.
“We took our time,” Nelson said.
“Everyone was in the same spot shoulder to shoulder,” Steffes said.
The group turned to the support of 60 volunteers to help make the event possible.
Jahn said the group appreciates the community’s outpouring of support.
“There are some that are wives of the heroes,” she said. “We have some that are husbands of the heroes. We have sons and daughters [of the heroes.] We have community members that just heard about what we’re doing and reached out on Facebook that wanted to help. We had First Christian Church that took us on, as their organization wanted to support this Christmas event.”
While many law enforcement agencies put on similar Christmas events in the communities they serve, the group believes their effort was unique.
“We really wanted to know people’s stories,” Jahn said. “We wanted to know what happened the past year that made it very difficult. We didn’t ask for tax [returns] or donations. We didn’t ask for any of that. We wanted to hear their story, and people were really honest.”