Thirty police cruisers flooded the parking lot of the Target in Butler Plaza. The sirens could be heard as they made their way down Archer Road, bringing children from local elementary schools for a special shopping spree.
Target’s Heroes and Helpers event pairs public safety officials with community youth for holiday shopping sprees. The program raised more than $150,000 for agencies in about 200 communities throughout the United States last year, according to Target’s website.
The kids are chosen through their schools to receive a $100 shopping spree based on a variety of criteria, including classroom behavior, grades and financial need.
About 15 Target employees, wearing green capes and grey stickers with the words “Heroes and Helpers” written on them, made two lines to high-five and greet the children as they entered the store.
“They can stay as long as they want,” said Jennifer Terry, the executive team leader for asset protection at Target. “Typically the kids buy gifts for everyone but themselves.”
This is Terry’s second year working on the event with the Gainesville Police Department. Heroes and Helpers is a program that Target uses to give back to communities.
“Target writes GPD a check, and they choose to spend it here,” Terry said. “They don’t have [to], but they do because we put on a good event.”
She added that Target often engages in community events, and that is why she loves working there.
Tucker Foster, the executive team leader for human resources, said he thought the event was a unique and rewarding way to give back to the community.
“This is my first time doing this event,” he said. “I’m excited to see how it all goes down.”
The police department puts together the goody bags that the employees hand out to the children, he said.
Officer Erika Benson was paired with Alyssa Hawley, a J.J. Finley Elementary School student, for the shopping spree.
“It’s great for them,” Benson said. “It gives them a different view of what we do. They get to play with our lights and sirens.”
Alyssa, 10, said she wanted to shop for her family first and use the money that was left over for herself. She bought gifts for her sister, mother and grandparents, and she chose a robotic fish to share with her sister.
“If she doesn’t like it, I certainly will because it won’t die like the others,” she said.
Alyssa was a conscious shopper, asking Officer Benson to add up her purchases after she put each item in the cart.
Corporal Christopher Cardwell has been involved in the event for five years. He shopped with Manhattan McFaden, 11, for videos games and a football.
“I’ll do this every year,” Cardwell said. “You don’t have to pay me. The joy is priceless. Sign me up. I’ll be here.”