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Toys for Tots Calls on Kids to ‘Shop with a Hero’

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The month of December brings Santa and sleigh bells, cookies and caroling, and tons of Christmas spirit. And on Friday kids are helping to make a difference for those in need.

The Toys for Tots campaign aims to collect toys for the less fortunate – and to help their families make it a better, brighter Christmas. Part of that effort is the “Shop with a Hero” day: where law enforcement, firefighters, and even the Coast Guard help local school kids hit the toy aisle.

9&10’s Bill Froehlich and Videographer Josh Monroe show us what it’s all about.

The spirit of the season rolls in to Traverse City with Santa’s arrival. With a fire truck escorting the big guy to the Meijer store, where he’s greeted by dozens of kids in the mood to do some Christmas shopping.

And the countdown is on to making a better Christmas for kids all over northern Michigan. Harper Vargas, Layla Durga, and Malynn Hildabridle are three of Santa’s helpers. Malynn says, “We’re on a budget and we’re shopping for kids that don’t get presents for Christmas because their families don’t have enough money. So we’re shopping for them to make sure they still have the Christmas feeling inside for them.”

Santa says they’re a big help to him and the elves. “This helps us because it will get the toys the kids want, to them. These toys will go to kids that normally won’t get things that are off the radar. And unfortunately some of them are off Santa’s radar.”

The girls were teamed up with Trooper Andrea Ruggles from the State Police Cadillac Post. Harper says that was “kind of weird because I don’t usually go shopping with a police officer.” But they say it was a lot of fun. Malynn adds, “She’s just really a nice lady, and I’m happy that she helps everybody in need.” Trooper Ruggles says, “It’s always fun. It’s always good to hang out with some kids for the day and buy some toys. I think it’s most fun seeing them pick out toys that they think other kids would like.”

For Malynn, “I’d say my favorite toy would be that big, actually, that spider-man ball I picked out.” Layla says there are lots of toys she likes. But “it was hard to go around the store and find stuff. I thought we’d have pictures on it of the toys we had to pick out.”

Mike Kent with Toys for Tots says the kids play a crucial role in the experience. “To use their expertise on how to buy a toy or what kind of toys are hot, or what’s popular. And to team them up with heroes, it’s just a remarkable experience. It teaches the kids the joy of helping others.”

And a pro tip from Santa himself, for all the moms and dads and grandparents: “I like to sit and watch cartoons with my grandson. Because the commercials tell me a lot!”

Kids and their heroes collected about $5,000 worth of toys during the Meijer shopping trip. But Santa, and Toys for Tots, still have a lot of work to do before Christmas.

And Toys for Tots knows this will be a big day for their toy collection effort, and in Traverse City, the toy bus is a big part of it.

Volunteers were stationed outside the Traverse City Meijer store. Meijer will be matching toys that were bought from their store and dropped off at the toy bus. Donations will help kids from 14 social service agencies in the five county Grand Traverse region.

“They’re all anticipating greater need this year. So far it’s looking good but we’ve got a long way to go,” Kent says. “Just the generosity that we see from the steady stream of people dropping off toys. We really are hoping we have a great day primarily because we know there’s a big need out there.”

Toys for Tots says there are more than 100 drop-off locations in the five county area. They’ll be out for a couple more weeks. Look for the red and white toy drop off signs or the Toys for Tots logo on boxes at local stores.