The event might’ve been different this year than it has in the past, but the heart, the passion and the early morning joy remained the same — Holiday with a Hero is always a magical event.
Due to the pandemic, plans for this year’s Holiday with a Hero changed. Instead of inviting 151 Lassen County youth to Walmart for a morning of holiday festivities and shopping with local heroes, the magic went directly to them.
Mini parades, featuring masked first responders, dance teams, elves, princesses, volunteers and even Santa made the rounds Saturday morning, Dec. 19, delivering presents to and building relationships with local children.
“There is no other community that did anything like what we managed to pull off in our town, it honestly only worked because of our community,” said Susanville police officer and Holiday with a Hero board member Terra Avilla “We had Lassen Rural Bus pitching in, we had our high schoolers pitching in, we had the dance team, the drill team, the dance studios pitching in, the explorer post, the nursing program. That’s the only reason it worked — because we have the community that we do.”
According to Holiday with a Hero board president Leon Myers, there was some concern this year’s event might not be personal enough — but that concern quickly faded as each child got one-on-one time with the heroes and Santa.
“It was good, it was great,” Myers said, adding kids were running from their houses and leaping into Santa’s arms.
This year, participating youth were given a Golden Ticket by local agencies if they felt a child could use a better interaction with first responders or a little Christmas magic. And, in the weeks leading up to Holiday with a Hero, there were three waves of shopping to get the perfect gifts. The organization members knew which children were selected, and called parents to find out the exact gifts on the child’s wish list. Then, in three waves, volunteers went shopping for gifts and brought them up to the college campus for bagging and tagging.
Moreover, the Lassen High School ASB went shopping for the stockings that were delivered to each child.
While the event helps bring holiday joy to local youth, it also helps form connections between children and first responders, especially if the child has had negative interaction with them before, and gives local heroes a different way to serve their community.
“Obviously, now more than ever, every first responder thinks it’s very important to connect with their community. We are a very small community, and first responders are not just people who wear uniforms, they’re your family, friends and neighbors, the parents of kids in your class. We just want our community to know that as first responders we love our community and we want to serve our community in more than just the capacity of the uniform we wear,” Avilla said.
Avilla elaborated she personally feels its important to connect with local youth, and have them see her and not just the uniform.
This year’s event was very different than past years, however, it was pulled off seamlessly by the planning and execution of board members. Avilla praised Christi Myers, Leon Myers and Rebecca Sanchez for their work pulling off this large scale event.
On Saturday morning, about 110 volunteers and local heroes gathered their vehicles at the Lassen College parking lot, lights and sirens at the ready, as they prepared to embark on the mini parades throughout town delivering the magic and goodies.
In the outlaying areas, fire departments ensured Holiday With a Hero participants got their gifts and special visits.
This year’s participating agencies and groups include Susanville Fire Department, Susanville Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, High Desert State Prison, the California Correctional Center, the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, the Susan River Fire Protection District, the Madeline Fire Department, the Standish Litchfield Department, the Milford Janesville Department, the Doyle /Herlong Department, the Westwood Fire Department, the Lake Forest Fire Department, the Herlong Fire Department, SEMSA, CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service fire fighters, Lassen County Probation, the Lassen Community College nursing program, the Lassen Hot Shots and the Lassen County Fish and Game.
There was also special assistance from Lassen Rural Bus, the Lassen High School ASB, drill and cheer teams, JandJ Performing Arts and Walmart.
Avilla is astounded with the growth of the program and expressed her gratefulness for what this community was able to pull off.
Holiday with a Hero became a non-profit organization in 2019 and donations for the event can be received year-round. According to Avilla, those wanting to make donations can do so through Venmo, through the Lassen County Holiday with a Hero account US Bank, or donations can be dropped off at the police or fire departments and tax receipts can be provided.
Overall, although this year’s event was different due to the pandemic, local agencies, volunteers and groups pulled together to ensure a safer way to deliver the magic to 151 Lassen County Youth.
“The way we were able to go to each house made it way cooler,” said Avilla, noting the simultaneous four parades in city limits and the deliveries in outlaying areas. “Our county did that, and no one else in the world can do that.”