Home Community Why We Love This Place Wednesdays: The Holiday With a Hero Program

Why We Love This Place Wednesdays: The Holiday With a Hero Program

Susanville Fire Chief James Moore with a very happy participant at last year’s Holiday with a Hero event

By Terra Avilla

I didn’t know how I wanted to handle writing about this week’s topic: Holiday with A Hero. It is so very near and dear to my heart, and I obviously have a personal connection to the program, but I was afraid I would sound bias about how truly special this program is to our community.

However, after spending the past weeks speaking and dealing with multiple other agencies I was reminded that it is not just me who loves what this program does for our community. It truly is a community event.

Five years ago, with some gentle prodding, Denise Bera from the police department encouraged me to throw a Policeman’s Ball to raise money. I instantly knew what I wanted the funds to be raised for: taking kids shopping and Christmas… and just like that our program was formed.

Since then we have more than quadrupled the amount of participants, volunteers and first responders involved in the annual event.

One of the very best things we ever did was include other ‘heroes’ from around our community; fire fighters, medics, nurses, Correctional Officers, ASB, Cadet Corps, the Lassen College Nursing Program, Susanville Rotary, the LCC Baseball Team, Lassen County Public Health, Police and Fire Explorers, Lassen High School FBLA and FFA just to name a few of the event’s sponsors.

Because of the collective participation from everyone involved, our community has been able to reach hundreds of local kids the past five years, ensuring that they feel loved, special and that they have a bright spot in their Holiday season.

Of course, there are the people who donate gift cards and monetary donations. Without them, we would not be able to have the type of program that we do. Thank you for your generosity.

To every single person who donated this year (or any year) from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It matters. It makes a difference. It really does.

Anyone who has ever been at the event can tell you what I’m about to tell you. These kids appreciate every single cent that was given to them. For a brief two-hours every year, Walmart is turned into a play area where children are getting piggy back rides from fire fighters, having shopping cart races with the police, they are getting donuts from the Warden and hugs from the Sheriff.

Every year I take a minute to just watch. Watch the smiles on the volunteers’ faces, which are just as big as the kids’. Yes they are getting much needed jackets and shoes, but they also are getting memories and love. Love that spills over from our community into their life.

You may not be there to witness it, but I hope this Saturday morning while you sip your coffee or love on your own kids, you pause to feel the love that you put in a child’s life, a memory that they will have forever.

Every year there are stories from our event that stick with me, and make feel so incredibly humbling.

Two years ago it was the seven-year old and six-year old siblings that ‘planned’ on using their money to collectively buy a Christmas tree and its decorations. One sibling was going to get the tree, the other the fixings. They had never had one, and that’s what they wanted. Little kids – who didn’t want a present, they wanted a tree.

When their heroes found out their plan, they bought them the dang tree and the fixings out of their own money, so their gift cards could be used on presents. I cried.

Last year it was the family who were living with their aunt. They were terrified of police and medics, after having witnessed their mother overdose in front of them. Police, Fire and Medics were now associated with a very traumatic event. To watch these kids progress in a two hour time frame from being absolutely apprehensive to absolute pure joy as they now clutched their hero’s hand. I cried.

This year I was in Safeway grocery shopping when I was approached by a mother whose children participated in our program last year. She recognized me and cornered me in the cereal aisle. She gave me a hug and sheepishly handed me a check. I opened it – it’s a check for $40. She tells me that she knows “it’s not much,” but that she wants to help the program this year, as last year was one of the hardest years of her life, and her babies were given a Christmas through our program.

She thanks me and tells me that this year, she is ‘back on her feet’ and wants to pay back the program that helped give her family a miracle. I cried.

I am not going to lie, this event is hard to put on. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be organized and sometimes, you guys, I get overwhelmed. This year the fire Department stepped in and ensured that all of the loose ends we needed to get this program to continue happened.

I don’t think people realize the hearts we have working for this city. Chief Moore, Chief Weaver and everyone else at the Fire Department – thank you for stepping up to do what you did.

I snapped this photograph of you guys after you spent all day raising money

Thank you all so much for being relentless about giving kids a Christmas. To all of the other programs who seamlessly step in and volunteer year after year thank you.

I could keep writing on and on about how Public Health goes above and beyond to entertain the parents, how Walmart graciously lets us create havoc in their stores, how SEMSA somehow always makes Santa appear in a helicopter… how ASB fundraises and stuffs over 250 stockings for us… on and on and on.

All I can say is we have come a long way from 30 kids, with just the police department, four Christmases ago. So this Holiday with A Hero, as I run around and watch our community take care of one another, as I watch volunteers show up early in the morning to help, as my breath is taken away from the beauty of the ‘light parade’ we put on for the kids, please excuse me as I will most definitely cry. Happy, happy, grateful tears.

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