Before Christmas 2017, Target store employees joined police officers from South Whitehall and Upper Macungie townships, the City of Allentown, and the Lehigh County Sheriff’s Office hosting the fourth annual Heroes and Helpers shopping spree for 33 Parkland students.
This event was designed so the youngsters could purchase Christmas presents for their families.
Helping with additional funds and donations at this year’s shopping event and Christmas party Dec. 5, 2017, were the Parkland School District Education Foundation, David M. and Elizabeth Kennedy and Chef Leon Amato with the Woodlawn Fire Company Social Club.
Lehigh County Sheriff Joe Hanna, who was asked by Christman to participate, commented on why his deputies took part.
“Myself, as well as my command staff and deputies frequently participate in community events, so it did not require much thought on my part to welcome Chief Christman’s invitation and we are looking forward to our continued participation in years to come,” Hanna said.
Deputies Lita Gladstone and Martin Ramirez were hand chosen by him as each have children and can relate to young people.
“Heroes and Helpers falls under our Community Outreach program,” Hanna stated. “Our goal is to promote the Lehigh County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement as a whole.
“Today’s youth find themselves in a most vulnerable position, dealing with temptations and the ills of our society.
“Developing friendships with members of law enforcement has a positive effect for them, law enforcement and our society as a whole.”
Diane Joy Irish, home and school visitor with the Parkland School District commented on the students’ participation.
Irish said the 33 students, three from each school in the district, were nominated by their guidance counselors.
She said students were nominated for a variety of reasons — either because of a hardship and/or because they have worked hard to be good role models in their schools.
“The overall focus of the event is to provide the children with a positive experience with law enforcement,” she stated. “There has been preliminary discussion of organizing a similar type of event in the spring to provide another opportunity for positive interaction between some of our students and law enforcement.
“The hope is to extend the spirit and good will of the event beyond the holiday season when many other similar events and charitable acts are taking place.
“There is a definite need for this type of community building all year round.”
Shivani Patel, executive director of the Parkland School District Education Foundation, discussed the foundation’s participation.
The foundation has supported Heroes and Helpers since the program’s initiation.
“It is one of the Foundation’s flagship programs which cultivates positive community culture,” she said.
“This program allows students who are experiencing difficulties in their home or family life a chance to do some holiday shopping for their family members.
“The foundation is very proud of this program and will continue to support it.
“It is also very grateful for all other community supporters who make this program possible every year. Our hope and goal is to grow and make it better every year.”
Patel said the foundation donated $1,500 for this year’s shopping spree.
Dave Kennedy spoke with The Press about his donation.
“My wife and I gave $1,100 so one additional student could participate,” Kennedy said. “One from each school at $100 each.”
Kennedy said the most enjoyment is having the kids tell him what presents they picked out.
“They always tell me what they got for their parents, brothers and sisters before they tell me what they got for themselves,” he added.
“I am especially thankful for our law enforcement personnel who took personal time to be with these kids for several hours,” Kennedy said. “I know that it means a lot to them and in return these kids will not forget what a great experience it was.”
The morning of Heroes and Helpers began with students and police making Christmas lists, then going shopping and wrapping gifts for their family members and pets at Target.
This was followed by the students and police traveling by school bus to Woodlawn Fire Company for a holiday party featuring a photo booth, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus from Dream Events, Northampton, and lunch provided by Chef Leon Amato with Woodlawn Fire Company Social Club.
Amato spoke with The Press about why he chose to participate and food for the party.
Amato said he decided to participate in the Heroes and Helpers party when South Whitehall Police Department described their event to him and what the purpose of the event was for.
He said it was not a hard decision to step up as a club to help the community and those children that are in need.
“I decided on a menu that would be good for the kids and the adults that were all participating in this amazing event,” Amato said.
Amato said he went with a cheese steak bar with fresh slice Knuckle from Heeps Meats and tempura battered chicken nuggets.
“We also did steak fries that were fried in 100 percent canola oil and homemade Mac and cheese bites, with a fresh pulled pork barbecue,” he said. “For appetizers we did a fresh fruit tray, bruschetta tray, a cucumber ranch dip tray, also a ring bologna and cheese tray.”
Amato said all these places that helped donate food to make this an amazing event included Heckenberger Seafood, Heeps Meats, Bonaventure Academy, Walbert Avenue Auto Center, West End Associates, and Supreme Auto Body.
“I would love to see this event grow to help all the kids that are in need in the community,” Amato stated. “I feel as a community we need to come together more to help those that are less fortunate than ourselves.”
South Whitehall Commissioners President Christina “Tori” Morgan commented on the festivities.
“Another fantastic year for the Heroes and Helpers Program,” Morgan said. “Huge success by way of the amount of laughs and smiles that we saw that day, not just by the kids, but also by all of the officers.”
“A true community event with the support of South Whitehall Township, Upper Macungie Township, Lehigh County Sheriff’s Office, City of Allentown Police Department, Parkland School District, Target, and the Woodlawn Social Hall Team, Parkland School District Education Foundation, Christmas City Studio, Trixie’s Treats, Dream Events, and Monarch Photography.”
Parkland Superintendent Richard Sniscak also commented on this year’s Heroes and Helpers.
“This year’s program was a tremendous success that benefited 33 of our students in the district,” Sniscak stated. “I wish to thank the officers from South Whitehall Township and Upper Macungie Township police as well as the officers from the Lehigh County Sheriff’s Department who participated in the program.
“I also would like to thank the Parkland Education Foundation, Target and Woodlawn Fire Company for their contributions toward making this day a success.”,