Cops, firefighters become personal shoppers

Published: December 11, 2006 | 5182nd good news item since 2003

Axel Valeri was all about anything but himself while shopping on Saturday morning.

The nine-year-old Hibbingite was one of 10 area kids who picked out gifts for family members during the fifth annual Shop with a Cop/Shop with a Firefighter event held at Wal-Mart.

Each youth — chosen by the Hibbing Police Department and the Hibbing Fire Department — was given $100 in funds from Wal-Mart to spend at the store. How the monies were spent was up to each participant.

Most opted to buy for their parental units and siblings. But Valeri took the opportunity one step further.

Not only did he buy solely for his mom and sisters, at the conclusion of the shopping spree he handed over a bag of goodies with a tag from The Salvation Army’s Angel tree for another area youth in need.

“I didn’t buy anything for myself,” said Valeri with a sense of pride. “Why would I buy something for myself? I’d already know what it is. Plus, it’d be weird to see ‘to Axel from Axel’ on it.”

Valeri said he brought along gifts ideas, wanting to mix in something fun and with something practical for each.

“I thought about my sister and how she likes to crawl,” said Valeri, referring to Opal, his eight-month-old sister. “So I got her a musical pop-up thing.”

Opal will also be the lucky recipient of a toy train and a dancing monkey. His other sibling, Lola, 3, will have fun unwrapping a puppy with carrying case and a pony barn with twin equines.

“I got my mom a necklace and bracelet with blues stones,” he added. “And socks.”

He wasn’t at a loss of ideas, but the money only went so far.

“I tried to think of things they would like, so that made it easy,” he said. “Then I thought about things they could use.”

Valeri was paired with Hibbing Police Capt. Rich Sellman. With a colored calculator in hand, Sellman raced around the store assisting, advising and adding up Valeri’s purchases.

“It was awesome,” said Sellman of the shopping experience. “We had a fun time together picking out stuff for his mom and sisters.”

Sellman said he was impressed by the youngster’s selflessness.

“He spent every dime on his family,” said Sellman. “He didn’t buy one thing for himself.”

Bonding over buying gifts led to a humorous banter between the two. When chomping on a doughnut after shopping, Valeri asked all about Sellman’s duty belt — namely the spring loaded Long John doughnut dispenser (clip holder), his tiny cup of instant coffee (mace holder) and his ability to radio into the doughnut man when he needs more.

Sellman laughed.

“This is lots of fun,” he added. “It’s fun to see things through kid’s eyes again.”

Sellman also noted the event is a good way to introduce emergency workers to the young population.

“This allows the kids to see us as regular people,” he said. “It’s something we can do with the kids on their level, and shows them that we do more than deal with bad people.”

The firefighters/paramedics enjoyed the experience as well.

“It’s always fun to take kids shopping, isn’t it?” said Fire Marshal Jim Iammateo. “Plus we got a chance to sit down and talk with them.”

Firefighter/paramedic Matt Ashmore had to do some fancy juggling. He assisted brothers Bruno and Maxwell Cheney — keeping them separate to allow each to buy a gift for the other as well as working together to finds gifts for mom and dad.

“That took strategy,” admitted Ashmore. “We had to do some sneaking, swapping and separating. It was challenging, but we got it.”

The Cheneys each said they had a blast — dashing down the aisles, spending money and driving crazy with the cooler they bought for camping.

“It was cool,” said Bruno. “Dad was easy, but we debated about mom.”

Wal-Mart Personnel Manager Barb Miller said they enjoy hosting the annual event. She said they are lucky to have support for such a program, adding that many of the kids are grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s a good thing because some may not have a chance like this,” she said. “Many kids have thanked us in the past. We even have kids that remember us when they come back, so that’s neat.”

Miller said that if she could have her way, all of their grant money would be spent on a program like this. That way, she said, more kids would benefit.

Ashmore helped the Cheney brothers wheel out their cart of gifts — all wrapped, bagged and bowed. Their mom, Jennifer, lit up with a large smile and a smirk of surprise.

She commented on how great the program is, as Bruno and Maxwell bid farewell to Ashmore.

“This will make it a Merry Christmas,” said Bruno.

Published in Christmas, Cops, Firefighters, Kids & Teens
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