By Christine Bryant
Studying each item carefully in the aisles of a local store, Rojan Adhikari sought the perfect gift.
Finding just the right present to give to the people he loved on Christmas Day was important to the 11-year-old and important to Reynoldsburg Police Officer Tony Hines to help him find it.
First responders swarmed the Target on Taylor Park Drive earlier this month – for a good cause. Adhikari and Hines were one of several pairs of Reynoldsburg children and first responders who perused the aisles of the Taylor Park Drive Target Dec. 5 as part of the “Heroes and Helpers” program.
Though most of the children had never met the officers and emergency personnel, they became fast friends as they walked down the aisles, shopping for presents for their loved ones.
“He’s good – and funny,” said Adhikari of his partner, who donned a smiling Adhikari with his police uniform hat.
Officer Michele Fulton, who has organized the event for the past five years, says the event is possible thanks to donations of gift cards, wrapping supplies and snacks from local residents and businesses.
“This is building relationships and letting the child see a different side of the first responder,” Fulton said. “Many times when we arrive at the scenes, we are making the area and the child safe. There isn’t much time to chat and share experiences and likes.”
Reynoldsburg Schools administrators select the children for the program each year based on the needs of the students’ families, Fulton said. Using a $100 gift card to purchase presents for parents, siblings or other family members, the children then wrap the presents with the help of their first responders.
For Hines, participating in the program has given him an opportunity to reach out to a child who may not otherwise have a chance to participate in holiday festivities.
“It makes us all step back and realize what the true meaning of Christmas is,” he said. “To see the smiles on the kids’ faces reminds me that this season is much bigger than self.”
Fulton said several organizations, businesses and residents came together to make the event a success, including the Reynoldsburg Division of Police; Fairfield County and Licking County sheriff’s departments; Truro Township, Violet Township and Jefferson Township fire departments; Reynoldsburg Schools PTO; April Darling; Target; Skyline Chili; Max & Erma’s; McDonald’s and several private donations from the surrounding areas.