(NEWARK, NJ) -- United Community Corporation (UCC) and the City of Newark made over 200 local children’s spirits merry and bright just in time for the holidays at this year’s annual “Shop With a Hero” event. The program, held on Saturday at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark, provided each child with a $100 gift card to then go on a shopping spree in downtown Newark with a local hero.
The children, joined by their parents/guardians, paired up with a local hero such as a police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse, EMT, educator, and/or first responder for a shopping trip at stores along Broad and Market streets in downtown Newark. UCC teamed up with the City of Newark, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles to host the event.
“I am in awe of how the community joined us to service over 200 families for Shop With a Hero,” said UCC Executive Director Craig Mainor. “The impact was made clear with several children in disbelief that not only did they receive the $100 gift cards, they were also able to receive additional gifts including McDonald’s gift cards, movie tickets, ice skating vouchers and books for free. Their joy is why we serve.”
“It’s always an honor to work with UCC, and what better way than for our Office of Community Engagement to do outreach than Shop With a Hero,” said Newark Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement Jacqueline Quiles, whose office was among those who helped coordinate the event. “Last year we hosted 100 families at City Hall, and this year we kicked it up a notch, came to the Robert Treat Hotel and took it to the next level hosting 250 families. It’s a terrific partnership, and we keep growing. It’s great because we’re serving the community.”
The program came to the community at a time when the financial costs associated with the holidays can burden families that are already struggling with recent economic hardships and the lingering effects of the pandemic.
After having kicked off the holidays last year with a successful Shop With a Hero event, UCC, the City of Newark and its partner organizations are committed to building lasting bonds and mentorships between youth in Newark and local heroes. The goal of the event is to humanize the people behind the badge or mask so that children can build relationships with police, first responders and direct service workers.
“We’re about keeping everyone safe,” said NJIT Police Department Sgt. Raheem Denson, who served as one of the heroes at the event. “ As much as the world focuses on all the bad, there’s plenty of good here. We like to show there’s plenty of good. We do toy drives, trunk-or-treats and clothing drives. We don’t do it for the clout. We do it because we want to help people and for people to know that we’re more than just a presence.”
In addition to bringing children joy during the holiday season, the event also aimed to assist families that are at-risk. In doing so, UCC aimed to ease the worry that parents and guardians have about providing gifts for their children and allow them to use their money towards basic needs. Before leaving, each child received a gift bag of donated goodies, and their parent/guardian received a bag of groceries.
Newark Department of Public Safety officials provided traffic control and were present throughout the shopping route, which featured stores like SNIPES, Regines, GameStop and Nike.
The event couldn’t have been such a success without the generosity of its sponsors and partners. This year’s sponsors and partners included Amerigroup, the City of Newark, Newark Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Quiles, WellCare, United Way of Greater Newark, Brilliant Smiles Newark, Peapack-Gladstone Bank, Newark Department of Public Safety, NJIT Police Department, Newark Public Schools, and Newark Vulcan Pioneers.
“Amerigroup is proud to partner with the UCC for their Shop with the Hero event again this year,” said Amerigroup Community Representative Margarita Valentin. “This is a wonderful example of the community coming together to make the holidays special for local children and their families.”
“I was paired with the cutest little girl. She was a bit shy and quiet in the beginning but after we finished shopping, she was bright, laughing, and happy. To me, that was the gift,” said United Way of Greater Newark Director of Health Adaobi Ndupu. “Thank you to UCC for creating a space to put a smile on a child’s face.”
With new toys and holiday goodies in-hand, the shopping sprees embodied what it means to give back to one another during the holidays for families that participated in the event.
“It’s a great thing that this event even came to be, and it shows how kind the world can still be,” said Nathalia Best, a parent whose two kids, Malakhi and Milo, got to shop with a hero. “It’s a really nice thing. My kids are excited to be here, so that’s the best part about it - to see how happy they were to come.”