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Airmen spread joy at Christmas

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- Hundreds of volunteers came together at Kohl’s Department Store in Acworth on December 10, braving the freezing temperatures for a chance to be a kid’s hero and bring some Christmas cheer during the city’s annual Shop with a Hero program. 

Service members from every branch arrived in uniform to shop with underprivileged children from the area for Christmas presents. Families that attended were given $100 Kohl’s gift cards and then a volunteer from the military, police or fire department walked with them around the store. Children were encouraged to shop first for their families and then for themselves. 

“Shop with a Hero” is a program that originally started in 1998 when Lori and Bob Weatherford and Angela & Ron Papaleoni went Christmas shopping for about 28 kids from the Acworth Housing Authority. The following year they teamed up with the Acworth Police Department and money raised in the community. That year they took 72 children shopping. 

Since then, Shop with a Hero has evolved in to an event incorporating hundreds of volunteers from each branch of the military, Acworth, Cobb and Kennesaw Police departments, Cobb Sheriff and Fire Departments as well as civilian volunteers and local churches. Master Sgt. Samuel Ruff of the 22nd Air Force command post said, “I’ve done this for the past three years and I look forward to it every year. It always seems to get bigger and bigger. It really makes you appreciate what you have.” 

In 2004 there were over 1,600 children and families who participated. This year there were over 2,000. 

Dobbins has gotten involved in a special way. 94th Security Forces has sponsored a family every year since 2001. During the months leading up to the holidays, they choose a deserving family and then take donations of money as well as gifts. Then as close to Christmas as possible, they deliver the gifts and cash in addition to taking the children and their family to Shop with a Hero. This year they were able to give $250 and numerous toys and presents. Staff Sgt. Ashanti Swann noted how pleasant the kids were who were participating and added, “I’m just grateful to be able to come and inspire the mind of a child. This is so rewarding and I am glad to give to others.” Staff Sgt. Charlene Demming and Senior Airman Aaron Doss agreed with her sentiments. 

Other Dobbins personnel in attendance included Maj. Detlef Klann, Chief Master Sgt. Dallas Godfrey, Senior Master Sgt. Robbie Walter, and Master Sgt. Steven Kalapos.