Annual shopping trip for children altered due to COVID pandemic

TAYLOR COUNTY—Every year, first responders and Leer coal miners gather with children of the area for a special night devoted to pampering and spoiling the kids. While the annual Shop with a First Responder and Leer Miner event will still take place, this year, the program will be conducted differently. 

“We had to come up with a plan for this year’s event, so members of the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) met with mining officials to discuss our options,” said Michelle Austin, one of the event’s organizers.

She said that after much consideration, organizers decided that it would not be responsible for them to pack Walmart with over 100 bodies, for the annual night of shopping. Noting that there was still a great need in the community for some children to receive gifts this Christmas season, the FOP members and coal miners wanted to continue with the tradition. 

“While it might not be what it was in previous years, the shopping experience will still provide children with gifts this Christmas, and that is was it is all about,” said Austin.

Typically, children are dropped off at Anna Jarvis where they receive dinner before being turned loose in the store to pick out gifts for themselves.

“Because of all of the restrictions in place and to help keep everyone safe, we had to make the difficult decision to alter the event. We will not be serving food to participants this year, and unfortunately, they will not have their typical shopping spree,” revealed Austin. 

This year, when registering children for the event, parents and guardians will notice that the sign-up form looks much different than in previous years. 

“This year, when signing children up, one major change that will occur is that families will only sign one child up per form,” Austin explained. “Before, they could register up to five children on the same sheet, but now each child will need their own form.”

She noted that families registering more than one child should include all applications in the same envelope, so that participants within the same household would stay together, to eliminate the possibility of one child in the home being selected and another not.

“In addition, because it would be too risky to have all of the volunteers and children packed into the store, this year, volunteers will be shopping for the kids, instead of with them,” Austin disclosed. “Because the children will not be present to pick out their gifts, items will need to be selected and noted on the application.”

Just as in years past, each participating child will be given $100 to spend on themselves. However, to help the volunteers pick out items, applicants will need to select five items for their wish list and will need to note those items on the signup sheet. 

“There will be a spot for families to write in the UPC numbers and descriptions of the items,” Austin noted. “So, before mailing in their applications, they will need to visit the store and record the information on the form.”

And because there is no guarantee that items will remain in stock between the time of registration and shopping, children are asked to choose two alternate items of equal or lesser value of their initial picks, keeping in mind their $100 limit.

 “We will do what we can to get the items they choose, but in the event something is sold out, we want them to still get something they would like,” Austin commented.

She reported that once a child’s application is selected, the gifts would be purchased and then the family would be notified for date and time of pickup.

“Our group of volunteers, armed with the child’s wish list, will purchase the items requested. They will be bagged and taken to Grafton Lodge and Conference (the former Crislip building) and we will contact each family letting them know what time to come and pick up their goodies,” Austin explained.

She revealed that package pickup is scheduled for December 18. 

Applications will need to be completed and postmarked by December 4 for a child to be eligible for this year’s program.

“We are asking that because this year is different, that families fully read and follow the instructions on the form,” Austin imparted. “Failure to do so could result in the rejection of a child’s application, and we would hate that for the kids. We know that this is not the event that we all look forward to, but we wanted to still let the children know they are cared for this Christmas.”


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