About 172 children, 150 local first responder heroes and 162 volunteers pose in front of Walmart early in the morning Saturday, Dec. 21 for the annual Lassen County Holiday with a Hero event. Photos by Makenzie Davis

Holiday with a Hero supports record number of kids

Holiday with a Hero’s growth is staggering, and the event’s leaders are stunned with its ability to bridge gaps between youth and first responders, as well as its capability of spreading some Christmas magic.

Early in the morning Saturday, Dec. 21, 172 children participated in the annual festive and fun-filled Lassen County Holiday with a Hero event where they shopped for both needed and wanted items with a donated $100 each. Helping them were local heroes (first responders) and volunteers.

“It went very well,” said Lassen County Holiday with a Hero board president Leon Myers. “(The event) is staying strong and it’s developing and growing.”

This year, the event allowed a record number of youth to have the holiday of their dreams as they shopped for items on their list at Walmart.

About 150 local first responders from a variety of local agencies and 162 volunteers assisted the participants.

The Heroes stemmed from CHP, Susanville Police Department, Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, SEMSA, SEMSA Air, Banner Lassen ER, CCC, HDSP, CDCR Parole, Cal Fire, Susan River Fire Department, Fish and Game, Herlong Police Department, Susanville Fire Department, Standish Litchfield Fire Department, Janesville Fire Department, Lassen Hot Shots, USFS Service, Lake Forest Fire Department and VFW.

Overall, the community raised between $35,000 and $40,000. Unused funding will help support future events.

This was the event’s first year as a non-profit board, which not only helped with planning, but also with the quality of the event, according to said Susanville Police Officer and Holiday with a Hero board member Terra Avilla.

“Having the board made a huge difference,” Avilla said, adding there were committees for various aspects, and there wasn’t one person running the entire event. “The quality of the event has expanded tenfold.”

On Saturday morning, after the check-in process, Holiday with a Hero participants were greeted with an impressive light parade from first responder vehicles, and Santa even arrived in style on a SEMSA helicopter.

While they were not shopping, youth got their stockings, which were organized and provided by Lassen High School ASB, got their faces painted, decorated cookies and got to visit with Santa.

Parents and guardians spent the morning participating in activities with Lassen County Public Health while their children shopped.

Many local agencies, businesses and community members volunteered their time and efforts to help the morning succeed, including LHS ASB, Susanville Soroptimist, Walmart, the public health department, the Miss Lassen County Program, the LCC nursing program, Susanville Supermarket IGA, Starbucks, Toys for Tots, VFW, , Wrap Around, SPD Explorers, LHS Cadet Corps, Susanville Salvation Army, Community Church,­ New Image Gym, Lassen ILP and even Lassen Taxi service, which helped transport families from outlaying areas who wouldn’t have been able to attend.

There is no application for children to participate in the event; they have to be nominated by one of the several dozen participating programs, including churches, schools, law enforcement agencies and community-based programs.

Additionally, there’s a two-pronged approach for who gets selected: Children who are in need of basic necessities as well as some Christmas joy in the form of presents, and those who could benefit from repairing a relationship and connecting with first responders.

Overall, it’s clear that throughout the years Lassen County Holiday with a Hero is a community driven event.

“When I started this I had no idea it would turn into this staple for the holiday season in our community,” said Avilla. “What our community is capable of is way more than I could ever imagine.”

The event first started in 2014 as the Susanville Police Department’s Shop with a Cop event, where 28 children participated.

Since then, the number of participating heroes has expanded greatly, providing more first responders the opportunity to participate.

Myers said this event is great with not only helping local children, but by helping them connect youth with first responders.

Often, he said, children only see emergency personal when something bad happens, when there’s a fire, when a loved one is injured or an arrest is made.

This event, though, provides an opportunity for children in the community to positively interact with local first responders in a positive environment.

Myers noted this event would not be possible without the community’s continued support.

“Without them and their donations, we would not be able to do this,” he said, thanking everyone who had helped.

What started as a single agency’s holiday event five years ago has transformed into a countywide tradition, spreading holiday magic and community togetherness to more and more children each year.

“It’s truly one of the most overwhelming feelings … I’m just so happy to be a part of this,” said Avilla.