Bert Etienne knew exactly what toy he wanted as he searched the aisles of the Target store in Westbury alongside Nassau County police Officer Sharon Galvin.
“I want a police badge,” the 7-year-old said.
Etienne was among 40 Westbury students who shopped for gifts for themselves and their families Thursday, with the help of Nassau County police officers.
The event, known as the Heroes and Helpers program, is an annual partnership between Target and the Nassau County Police Department Foundation that provides grants to students in financial need around the holidays.
Two students were paired with an officer or a Target employee to shop around the store. The kids, each of whom received a reindeer hat and a $200 grant, ranged from elementary school to high-school age.
Etienne, from Powells Lane School, was all smiles as he roamed the aisles. He considered cars, Legos and Minions plush toys before choosing a Captain America costume. Unfortunately, he and his escort could not find a police badge.
Galvin, a 30-year police veteran, began Heroes and Helpers six years ago when she learned of Target’s “Shop with a Cop” program, Target’s national initiative to help kids afford holiday shopping. She runs the program and writes the grants personally for each child.
“It’s life-changing for some of them,” Galvin said. “This is such a positive event for the children of our communities, to meet and get to know the police that serve their community. What better time of year than Christmas?”
Carrying their shopping lists, the students ran through the aisles, followed by officers wearing Santa hats. The officers had to push the carts, most of which were loaded to the top between each pair of young shoppers.
Fourth-grader Leondda Celestin, 9, filled up and pushed her own cart. She bought herself two Barbie dolls, Barbie clothes and a Barbie closet, along with a My Look Bracelet kit, pencils and “The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book.”
She also picked out a pair of pajamas for each of her parents.
“It’s Christmas and I wanted to get them something warm before Santa comes,” said Celestin, from Park Avenue School.
For Sgt. Rob Kiesel, the experience was both enriching and tiring.
“It’s a lot of fun shopping with them,” said the 23-year police veteran, holding a full cart. “They have a lot more energy than me.”