Each year, Zach Stewart and Joe Okos fill a holiday season of joy into one December day.
Mr. Stewart and Toledo Police Officer Okos are organizing the 10th annual 12 Kids of Christmas shopping event to provide presents for children in need. The Dec. 21 gathering will again pair area law enforcement with 200 youth at Meijer on East Alexis Road, where beaming children and officers will navigate aisles in search of gifts.
The event is about creating a family atmosphere for everyone involved, Mr. Stewart said.
“They can learn at that young age, and hopefully keep that experience in their minds for the rest of their lives, that police and law enforcement individuals are good people to help you,” Mr. Stewart said.
Feet on the Street, a non-profit group, has raised about $15,000 toward a minimum goal of $25,000. That total allows $125 for each shopping child.
“Our big push is to get to that magic number,” Officer Okos said.
The children enjoy free food, pose for photos with Santa, and meet Toledo Zoo animals. Police escort their bus from University of Toledo's Savage Arena to the store.
Mr. Stewart said 12 Kids of Christmas started with exactly that, a holiday event for a dozen youth. The sharp growth to 200 over a decade has left him nearly speechless.
“I imagine every one of those kids will never forget that,” Mr. Stewart said.
Officer Okos said he is pleased to help provide holiday magic for the children. The very pinnacle of the program would be a young participant one day joining law enforcement, he said.
The event has no paid employees, and the money stays in the region, he said.
“It will be in the greater-Toledo, Lucas County area. We don't send our money anywhere else. It's home-raised and home-used,” he said.
Those interested in donating can mail funds to Feet on the Street, 1947 Franklin Ave. in Toledo. Letters should be marked attention to “12 Kids of Christmas.”
Lucas County Children Services recommends youth for the program. For more information, go to www.feetstreet.org.
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