Michael Jerome Sanders grabbed a few pink My Little Pony figurines for his sister, threw them into the cart, and turned toward his shopping buddy.
“That’s it?” asked Deputy Dan Moman with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, before extending his fist toward the tiny outstretched hand for a bump. “OK. We’re done.”
The 10-year-old bought his mom a lava lamp, his dad cologne and one of his sisters a “transparent pillow” (it was sequin). For the other sister, he got a gymnastics Barbie doll, “because she does gymnastics.”
But despite all the presents sitting in his cart, Sanders couldn’t for the life of him figure out what he himself wanted for Christmas.
“I guess Xbox games,” he shrugged.
Sanders was just one of about 100 children in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene region to get chauffeured around area shopping centers at this year’s Holidays and Heroes event. By the day’s end, he would have a box full of food for a holiday dinner, bags full of wrapped toys and a new friend in law enforcement.
In about its 20th year, the event is a massive joint operation between law enforcement agencies and schools across the Inland Northwest. The agencies find room in the budget for the gifts, while the schools identify kids in their districts who are in need, many from households that fall below the poverty line.
Officers dress in uniform, pick kids up at their homes, buy them presents for their family and then wrap it all up before driving home.
In Spokane County, workers with Spokane County Detention Services, the sheriff’s office, and Spokane Police Department descended upon the Spokane Valley Walmart, where Sanders was struggling to think of a gift for himself.
He had no idea that, as part of the gig, he’d unknowingly bring home a few presents for himself, which officers stealthily bought and secreted away from under his nose.
“I wanna get him a dog,” he said of Moman. “Because his wife said that he really wanted a dog.”
Elsewhere in the store’s halls, children were giddy with excitement. Eight-year-old Billy, with Ian Purcell of detention services, kept returning to a particular aisle, home to the Magic 8 Ball.
“Does my brother hate me?” he asked before getting the answer he wasn’t looking for. “Yes?!”
“That’s a lesson,” Purcell lectured. “Don’t ask the questions you don’t want the answers to.”
Many of the officers helping out this year were event veterans. Marilyn Van Tassel, with detention services, and for the first year her son, Ron Van Tassel, with the police department, showed 8-year-old Leia Welle around.
Marilyn Van Tassel, in her eighth year helping, said the best part was the interaction with the other shoppers.
“They thank you for what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s a whole community thing.”
Waiting for the children after shopping was a trip to the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls, where dozens of volunteers at local businesses and organizations awaited. They handed out food and hot chocolate, gave out stuffed animals and, of course, wrapped the gifts.
Santa was there, too.
Shopping over, gifts wrapped and cocoa in hand, Sanders reflected on a job well done.
“It was good,” he admitted.
Maybe Santa could coax a gift out him too, if he was lucky.
“I don’t want one,” he decided. “I have enough.”
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