109 N.J. kids get $100 and time to shop with a hero

The event included firefighters, EMTs, doctors, teachers and police officers plus a party at Newark city hall and food distribution


Richard Cowen
nj.com

NEWARK —Give a kid a $100 gift card a week before Christmas, add in some adult supervision, and watch them go to town.

That was the game in downtown Newark on Saturday, as 109 lucky kids joined with first responders and other professionals for a shopping spree along Broad and Market streets that lifted spirits—and the local economy.

Newark Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles addressed the crowd in City Hall on Saturday.
Newark Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles addressed the crowd in City Hall on Saturday. (Photo/Aristide Economopoulos/Tribune News Service)

The “Shop with a Hero” event partnered 109 city kids with the doctors, teachers, firefighters, police officers and EMTs who have braved the Covid-19 pandemic. Each child was given a $100 gift card provided through the United Community Corporation, the non-profit that raised money for the gift cards through corporate sponsorships.

“A lot of sneakers were bought and GameStop made out pretty well,” said Richard Greco, the director of community engagement for the United Community Corporation. The 109 lucky participants were pre-selected through referrals made by city agencies that work with children, among them the Newark Board of Education and the police department’s Special Victims Unit, he said.

“We wanted to bring joy to the community and mentor the children with our heroes,” said Newark Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles. “It is a way for us to bring something back and help the local merchants too.”

The event, which began and ended with a party at City Hall, sent waves of kids, age four to 17 downtown on the last Saturday before Christmas. When they finished shopping, the kids returned to City Hall where they picked up gift bags. There was also a food distribution for parents.

It was an early Christmas present for the kids. The first responders got something else to take home.

“As a Newark native it is nice seeing the joy in people this time of year and I enjoy helping my community, said Melissa Cruz, a Newark firefighter. “Sometimes as a firefighter you don’t see the best things when people need help, and today is a good time for all.”

Newark Police Officer Damary Osorto felt good helping Zoey McCullough pick out a pair of sneakers and shirts.

“I’m glad I got to be a part of this,” she said. “It’s important for the children to have a good relationship with law enforcement and any first responder. Things like this aid in establishing a relationship and trust with them and I like just like helping kids.”

McCullough got the message. “Today was fun and I enjoyed being able to shop with Officer Osorto,” she said. “I was able to get some shoes and shirts and was able to see a lot of the stores downtown.”

Greco hopes a Christmas tradition was born on Saturday. “We were able to put over $10,000 into the downtown economy,” he said. “That was a big part of the appeal. We’ll be back next year.”

Money for the gift cards was raised through corporate donations Peapack-Gladstone Bank, North Star Elite Realty, Investors Bank, Children’s Foundation of New Jersey, United Way of Greater Newark Clinton Hill Community Action, Turner Construction, Vision Healers, Wilentz, RWJ Barnabas, Newark Beth Isreal Medical Center, Partners in Health, and Audible.

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