You have probably heard of our local “Shop with a Cop” program that helps provide Christmas for families, but you may not have heard about our Fraternal Order of Eagles’ “Shop with a Hero.”
For over 20 years, Barbara Denner and her team of volunteers with the Tooele Eagles have organized what began as “Shop with a Soldier” and is now known as “Shop with a Hero.”
Before the “Shop with…” name came about, the Eagles hosted what they called “Navy Kid’s Christmas” where they would purchase gifts and clothing for children in need and deliver them before Christmas.
Denner, who participated in the Eagles’ Christmas program, decided she wanted to do something a little more personal and be able to see the smiles on the children’s faces, so she came up with an idea for a new program, much like the “Shop with a Cop” program.
“In 2011, I walked over to the National Guard Armory and I talked to this guy and said I had this idea,” Denner said. “His name was Steve Harris and he was the recruiting officer. I asked him what he thought about joining forces between the National Guard Armory, the soldiers there and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and doing ‘Shop with a Soldier.’”
The Shop with a Soldier program ran from 2011 to 2018. It allowed children to go shopping with soldiers from the National Guard Armory, Dugway, and Camp Williams. In the first year of Shop with a Soldier, over 100 soldiers showed up to shop with children.
The program eventually faded out.
“As time went on, it was getting harder and harder to get soldiers, because they were going home for Christmas and I didn’t have enough help, so I thought there are more heroes in town,” Denner said.
In 2018, Denner changed the name of the program to “Shop with a Hero.”
The program now draws from a larger group of local heroes like veteran and active military members, firefighters, doctors, nurses, police officers, search and rescue members, and emergency medical technicians.
“These are kid’s heroes,” Denner said. “They are our frontline responders.”
High school ROTC members also help with the event each year.
This year, Shop with a Hero took place on Dec. 18.
In order to be a part of the program, parents must submit an application for their child at the Tooele County Children’s Justice Center. From there, applications are reviewed to make sure no child is enrolled in other programs, like Shop with a Cop or the Toys for Tots program.
Each year before the event, a prime rib dinner fundraiser is held to help pay for the program.
“The prime rib dinner is our biggest money-maker,” Denner said.
Businesses also help fundraise by setting up collection containers on their counters.
“It’s wonderful how people open up their hearts to this program,” Denner said. “All I had to do was say, ‘Hey, I have a dream. Can you help me?’”
At the end of the fundraising period, the amount of money collected determines the number of children who will be able to participate in the event.
At 7 a.m on the day of the event, heroes, other volunteers, children and their parents gather at the Eagles building in Tooele City and begin the day with hot chocolate, coffee, and donuts, which are often donated.
Each child is assigned a hero who talks to them about their likes and dislikes and gets to know the child personally and which toys they like.
After breakfast, children and heroes travel to Walmart in either a fire engine or a military truck. At Walmart, each child has an hour and $100 to buy their favorite toys for Christmas.
At checkout, if the total goes over $100, the hero picks up the slack.
During their time at the store, many heartwarming memories are made.
“I’ve noticed that many kids try to find something for their sibling, ‘’ said Jessica Pratt, who photographed the event. “That’s always nice to see. We are thinking of the kids but the kids are sometimes thinking of others.”
Walmart gives program participants a 10% discount.
This year, the Grinch showed up for the event.
Once shopping is complete, participants travel back to the Eagles building where they eat lunch and their presents are wrapped, so they have something to open for Christmas.
Denner’s husband, Kevin, plays Santa Claus and visits with children after lunch.
The first year the program was held, around 27 children went shopping. This year, 50 children were able to shop.
“It’s so heartwarming to me to see that this program is getting bigger,” Denner said. “I enjoy the fact that we are helping a child have Christmas. It’s not just one child, it’s 50 kids we help … It makes my heart melt when I see these kids. You can see big smiles on their faces.”
There were over 100 volunteers this year who helped with shopping, cooking, wrapping presents, cleaning up, and donating food.
“I owe a big thanks to everybody who has stepped up behind me and helped make this a success,” Denner said.
“Most of our volunteers say, ‘Let me know when you’re doing this next year,’” said Jennifer Winegar, who volunteers for the event. “They always want to come back, because of seeing the fun that the kids and the adults have.”
To support the program, join the “Shop with a Hero” Facebook group.
“This really couldn’t be done without all of the assistance from the Tooele County citizens,” Dean Adams, Shop with a Hero co-coordinator said.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nonprofit, is an international organization that raises money for different charities.
This year alone, the local branch has raised over $7,000 for suicide prevention locally.
“We are people helping people and that’s our motto,” Denner said.
Denner is the Auxiliary President of the local Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Fore more information on the Tooele Fraternal Order of Eagles click here.