Law enforcement officials and firefighters converged on Fred Meyer Saturday morning but there was no emergency — personnel from several area agencies were taking children school shopping.
“We’ve never done this before, I think it’s going to be pretty cool,” said Wasco County Chief Deputy Scott Williams.
He was accompanying John Michael, 7, who was on the hunt for a Mario backpack.
Scoring that, he and Williams set off to buy shoes, jeans, socks and other things on the list compiled by the Salvation Army.
Looking for discounts and coupons would make their $100 go farther, explained Williams to the energetic boy.
At the checkout line, they still had $6 to spend, so Williams helped Michael pick out a pencil box for $5.99.
Similar scenarios played out all over the upper floor of the store with shoppers from the following agencies: Wasco County Sheriff’s Office, The Dalles Police Department, Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue, Wasco County Community Corrections, Wasco County Search & Rescue, Oregon State Police, and Wasco County Sheriff’s Posse.
“I love it, this is amazing — I wish I’d had this opportunity as a kid,” said Travis Church, a parole officer, who was shopping with Rex Phetteplace, 7.
Lt. John Cadenas of the Salvation Army said the new Shop with a Hero program gave a helping hand to families.
In addition, he said children got to see the human side of emergency responders, especially police who are often in the news spotlight in a negative way.
“It’s a good way to build relationships,” he said.
He and his wife, Sharlena, modeled the first-ever program on similar community outreach efforts in other towns.
They came up with the idea while brainstorming ideas for what they could do without duplicating the efforts of other programs in the area.
“This was something different that we could do, and the children get to pick out things they love for school,” he said.
Next year, Cardenas would like to see some doctors and nurses involved in the shopping expedition.
Thirty-five children were signed up by their parents, who had to prove residency in the region and meet income eligibility guidelines, among other requirements.
Parents provided the sizes for their child, as well as what their immediate needs were.
That list was turned over to the emergency responder who would be helping out.
“I think this is going really well,” said Cardenas, watching Church’s ward, Phetteplace, trying to find a pair of camo pants that would fit, a tough call since he was trying them on over his jeans.
“It’s good to see them smiling and laughing,” said Cardenas, looking around the room at children interacting with their emergency responders.
In addition to shopping, the children were invited to explore the fire engines and patrol cars parked outside.
The posse had even brought a horse saddled and ready for a rider.
Cardenas, like many of the men and women in uniform, had spent the week helping out with the third major wildfire of the season near Dufur.
The Salvation Army worked with The Dalles Lions Club and other partners to provide meals, snacks, hygiene items, beverages and even cell phone chargers to the firefighters to “fill in the gaps” on comfort and care.
The time spent with children was a good boost in the middle of a difficult three weeks, said Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill.
Mario Barragan, 10, was also pleased with the experience. He was shopping with Samuel Perez, a city officer, who helped him pick out a pair of new shoes.
“He’s cool,” said Barragan of his escort.
Plenty of parents tagged along to give advice when needed, or to just watch the interaction between their child and emergency responder.
“He got two complete outfits, plus shoes, socks and underwear in about 30 minutes,” said Lynette Bradford, mother of Vance Bradford, 10.
He was paired with Travis Paulsen, a state trooper.
“It was awesome, he was nervous at first,” said Lynette. “He wanted me with them and I gave them the space to work and he ended up having a really good time.”
Paulsen said the experience was fun for him as well.
“It’s a great way to build a connection with the community,” he said. “It shows kids that we’re not only out there for law enforcement, that we are also out there to assist people.”
Williams said the response of people in Fred Meyer who heard what was going on was also very heartening.
“They kept coming up to us and trying to give us money, so we could buy more,” he said.
“I told them to give the donations to the Salvation Army, that it was awesome they wanted to help.”