MODESTO — Shopping doesnt normally require a police escort, but for 15 area kids, the experience was a holiday treat.
The Modesto Police Department took the children on a $200-each shopping spree at Target as part of the retailers national Heroes & Helpers program. Students who had overcome adversity, helped the community or otherwise made a difference were nominated for the award. Officers and other police personnel then shopped with the kids Sunday morning at the Target on McHenry Avenue in Modesto.
We want to build better community relations with the public and let these kids know were not just robots, were people, said Detective Ray Bennett, who organized the program for the department. This rewards not just kids who are less fortunate, but kids for doing good things.
Among the 15 youth awarded the prize was a student who spoke out in an anti-bullying program, a student who works with disabled youth and students who had lost their parents. They ranged in age from 5 to 17 and were nominated by community members, teachers and youth group leaders.
Seventeen-year-old Danny Mauricio shopped with officer Glenn Graves and his K-9 Kai. Mauricio was looking for some items for himself, but more for family and friends. The Downey High School senior was nominated for his work with the community group South Modesto Youth Leadership. When he was younger, Mauricio struggled through depression and suicidal thoughts, but he now volunteers his time to a variety of community service and leadership efforts.
Ive learned that when Im giving back, it is stress relief for me, Mauricio said.
Graves praised Mauricio for staying out of gangs and crime, which are prevalent in his south Modesto neighborhood. The group shopped smoothly together, with a pause in the dog food aisle for Kai.
Modesto resident Kay Keobunta came with the four children ages 6 to 14 whom she has legal guardianship over since their mother was murdered in 2011. The children searched for everything from jeans and shoes to toys and games.
Its very exciting for them, she said. I didnt tell them until we got here that this was happening. It is a great help for our family. This is really only the second time theyve seen police. The first time was with their mother. They were a little scared because of the first time they saw police. But I dont think they are scared anymore.
Officer Joe Lamantia was with one of her kids, 6-year-old Ronald Holmes, who had selected, among other things, light-up Avengers sneakers.
This has been pretty fulfilling following Ronald around and watching him grab everything, Lamantia said.
The spree was made possible by a $1,000 grant from Target as well as additional $1,000 donations each from Crime Stoppers and Rank Investigations. This is the first year Modesto police has taken part in the program, but Bennett said he hopes to make it an annual event.
Target also kicked in some extras, including a bicycle for a student who was nominated but unable to accept. The student had prepared more than 50 care packs for soldiers in Afghanistan. But on the same day he learned he couldnt attend the Heroes & Helpers event, his bicycle was stolen. Eighteen-year-old David Brunns parents accepted the new bike, plus new lock, on his behalf instead.
This is pretty awesome, said store manager Karleen Kirby. The kids seem really happy and its been a lot of fun to see it all happen.