Police cars lined up in front of Meijer in Valparaiso on Tuesday, December 15 as Hebron police officers teamed up with representatives from United Way of Porter County and family members to shop for children in need within the Hebron School District. This is the third year that these groups joined forces to help kids in the community.
United Way approached the Hebron Police Department in 2018 with the idea for this now annual school shopping effort. Director of Development Kasandra Tenbarge said this pairing stemmed from United Way’s desire to connect with other groups in the community to partner in bettering their respective communities.
“About three years ago, I decided that we could be this connector in the community,” Tenbarge said. “One of the barriers that organizations can have is that police departments are really busy. Having the time to fill out the application and follow up with the paperwork and do the back-end side of it was really challenging. That’s something that United Way could do because we’re used to filling out applications and managing that process. We do that on behalf of a couple of the area police departments and other organizations that can then facilitate the program.”
When President and CEO of United Way Kim Olesker discovered that there was grant money at Meijer, they decided to take advantage of that grant money for the benefit of communities within Porter County. To determine which communities to shop for, Olesker said they looked to find the areas where there was the most need and community neglect.
“We worked it out the first couple years where we did a Thanksgiving food shop for one of the communities and then Christmas shop for another community,” Olesker said. “Hebron came along and really wanted to make sure they could shop with the kids, so for the past couple of years, we’d bus the kids out. We would shop with the kids, all hands on deck, and then they would go back to their community center to have a wrapping party.”
While the kids are normally part of the shopping outing, this year, the Hebron School District superintendent provided a list of children’s names, their clothing sizes, and what they wanted for Christmas. While toys and gadgets were, of course, common list items, children also asked for things like soap, clothing, and other essentials. Although the kids were not able to shop with police officers and United Way representatives, Officer Ryan Banister of the Hebron Police Department was happy to have found a way to continue their tradition.
“It’s great to help kids in the area,” Banister said. “For the last couple of years, I have helped mostly with the younger boys that are into the toys and are really excited about Legos, video games, and stuff like that. Seeing the smiles on their faces this time of year is nice, especially when it comes to underprivileged families.”
Olesker praised Meijer for its generosity and philanthropy. She said they received around $3,000 in gift cards from Meijer that will go to those families in need. This was one of four holiday shopping excursions. The three other outings were with Duneland School District benefiting Chesterton students.
“Enriching the lives in the communities we serve is a foundation at Meijer,” said Lynda Farris, Store Director of Meijer in Valparaiso and United Way Board Member. “Whenever we have an opportunity to be involved in this type of event, we are always more than willing to support. We operate in the communities, we live in the communities, and we support our communities.”
To learn more about projects like this, visit https://www.unitedway.org/.