A free spree for kids, spreading yule cheer

Published: December 5, 2006 | 5137th good news item since 2003

Largo firefighters, police officers and even the city manager serve as personal shoppers for children from needy families whose holidays will be brighter now.

$2,000 Amount in holiday gift cards Wal-Mart donated for needy families.

$2,500 Amount in matching funds given to the project by Commissioner Mary Gray Black and the Rev. Matthew Trill.

16 Number of families that received gift cards.

$250 Amount of each gift card.

It seems real men do like to shop. That was the case Saturday morning, when Largo police officers and firefighters, mostly male, showed up at a Wal-Mart on Missouri Avenue to serve as personal shoppers for some deserving youngsters out on $250 shopping sprees. It was an overcast day, but there were plenty of sunny smiles as the city servants and their young charges wound through the aisles, trolling for holiday gifts. “This is great fun,” said Largo police Chief Lester Aradi, who helped orchestrate the project. “I’m hoping this will create some memories for these kids that will last a lifetime. Today, it’s all about making them happy.”

Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock, who brought some big-boy toys along – a ladder and an engine truck on display in the store’s parking lot – said it was a great opportunity to spend some positive time with youngsters.

“Maybe it will inspire some careers as a firefighter or policeman,” he said.

The idea began a couple of weeks ago and snowballed.

A staff member from the local Wal-Mart contacted Largo’s police and fire departments to offer $2,000 in holiday gift cards for needy families. It was part of the company’s community giving efforts, said Kevin Taber, the store’s personnel manager.

The two departments were thrilled with the idea, Aradi said. They planned to present eight $250 gift cards to selected families; four youth would “shop with a cop” and four would “shop with a fireman.”

Then Commissioner Mary Gray Black got word and decided to match the Wal-Mart funds with another $2,000. And the Rev. Matthew Trill, pastor of the New Testament Baptist Church and Largo police chaplain, tossed in $500.

“It’s the true spirit of Christmas,” Aradi said.

With the funds doubled and then some, 16 families were chosen from the Haven of RCS as well as the Ridgecrest and High Point YMCAs. There would be enough extra money to pay sales tax and give each child a bit of a financial cushion should they go over the allowance.

Desmond Murphy, 9, was his family’s designated shopper, a job he took seriously.

While some of the young shoppers flocked to the video games and electronics sections of the store, Desmond picked out a coffee pot and filters, a foot spa, and a Swiffer floor care set for his mother.

“This is heaven,” he said about the spree.

He also selected some toys for his siblings before remembering he could use a new pair of shoes for himself.

He shrugged off the Spider-Man shoes; he was much too old for those. Then he tried on a pair of black and gray joggers.

Largo police Detective Scott Gore bent down to feel the toe room.

“I think you need to go up a half a size,” he said.

With that piece of good advice, there was one person left on Desmond’s wish list: his infant sister. Trouble was, he didn’t know what size she wore. And he wasn’t sure about her age.

“Is she the size of a chicken or the size of a turkey?” Gore asked.

Largo City Manager Steve Stanton served as a personal shopper for Traven Goettl, 8.

They hauled in two shopping carts filled to the brim with trucks, a skateboard, toys and candles and a spa set for the child’s mother.

And while some of the shoppers went over their allowances by $20 or $30, Stanton showed his fiscally conservative side, coming in at a low $258, including the tax.

“I like to see money go as far as possible,” he said.

As the shoppers checked out, one woman stopped Aradi and tried to contribute.

At first, he thought she was asking for a donation and reached down into his own pockets to help.

But no, Anna Insko, 73, insisted she wanted to help the children. “It’s just so touching,” she said. “It’s such a good thing that they do.”

Published in Charity, Christmas, Kids & Teens
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