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Police respond to families in need during Heroes and Helpers

December 10, 2018 GMT

DeKALB – Joseph Sanchez made a beeline to the electronics department, while Cmdr. Bob Redel pushed a red cart past other holiday shoppers to the back of the busy store midday Sunday.

The Sanchez family was one of more than a dozen DeKalb families selected to participate in the annual Heroes and Helpers event, in which children shop for Christmas presents with a DeKalb police officer at Target, 2555 Sycamore Road.

Joseph, 10, a fifth-grader at Jefferson Elementary School and an avid gamer, selected a headset with a microphone and a controller for his PlayStation 4, through which he plays Fortnite with his friends.

“It’s kinda cool,” he said of shopping with a police officer.

The pair chit-chatted about video games as they made their way to the front of the store to check out.

The Heroes and Helpers event benefits about 40 children each year, said Kelly Sullivan, community relations officer.

The DeKalb Police Department works with the DeKalb schools to find families who most would benefit from a little help at the holidays, Sullivan said. Each child selected receives a $100 gift card to spend on Christmas presents.

The department receives a grant from Target that it splits between National Night Out in August and Heroes and Helpers in December. The department also solicits donations from the community, and some officers sponsor children, Sullivan said. Between grant money and donations, the department was able to help 43 children this year.

One officer, upon picking up a family for the event that morning, noticed another child in the family, who was not on the list; he took $100 of his own to allow the child to shop for gifts, Sullivan said.

Redel participated in the event for the first time Sunday.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice to work with kids, to give them something that maybe they couldn’t get for themselves, and then to see their excitement.”

Joseph’s older brother, Roberto, 22, also got to shop with an officer. He picked out some clothes, a jacket, and gloves with help from officer Ryan Nicholson.

The boys’ mother, Dolores Rico, was thrilled when the school district called with the news that her boys would get to participate in the event.

“I was just like, ‘Wow,’” she said, mimicking the wide-eyed, jaw-dropped expression she made on the receiving end of that phone call.

Lolita Morgan of DeKalb shopped with officer Tyler Scott for her daughters, MaKhia Carroll, 11, and McKenzie Carroll, 8, both students at Littlejohn Elementary School.

Both girls are Honor Roll students, but Morgan bristled at the thought of how her girls might have spent a hundred bucks.

“These are the things that are needed,” she said, putting a sweater in the cart. “They’d be buying toys.”

Morgan perused the clothing and shoes, while Scott tracked the totals for both girls.

Heroes and Helpers is an opportunity for police to reach the community in a positive way, he said.

“Usually, people see us on their worst days,” Scott said.

So it’s nice to let people know officers are helpers, he said.

“That’s what we want to be known as,” Scott said.