By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Typically, when the fire department is involved, it means a family is having a pretty rough day.
But tonight, it will be an entirely cheery event as the Findlay Fire Department and Wal-Mart again team up for the annual Shop With a Firefighter program. This year, though, on top of giving 10 kids a chance to buy gifts for themselves and their families, the event will provide full Christmas dinners to five families in need and will serve as a Christmas miracle for one local family who lost everything in a house fire.
Findlay Fire Department Chief Jerry Greer said this year’s bigger and better program is being dedicated in memory of Randy Grose, Wal-Mart’s 14-plus-year assistant manager who died in May. Greer said it was Grose’s giving spirit and his tenacity in obtaining grants and other donations that allowed the Shop With a Firefighter program to begin five years ago, so this year’s event has been renamed “Randy Grose/Findlay Firefighters Home for the Holidays with Wal-Mart.”
“He’s kind of helped families out for the past five years, so this is a great tribute to him,” Greer said of Grose.
The chief explained that Wal-Mart contacted him and “asked me to pick five families in the community that are less fortunate.” Those families will each receive a shopping cart filled with enough groceries to prepare a full Christmas meal.
Greer said one mother, when told she would be receiving this gift, cried and told him she was anticipating having to take her kids to a free community meal or a shelter this year instead of being able to have dinner at home.
Another family who has recently lost its home to a fire has been chosen by the Fire Relief Foundation to receive a $500 shopping trip, courtesy of Wal-Mart, to buy anything they might need to get back on their feet.
“It might give them a Christmas that they lost in a house fire,” Greer said.
As in years past, 10 kids ranging from 5-11 years old will get shopping sprees of their own this evening. Greer said each child will be given $200 and a fireman to assist them with their shopping.
“We usually recommend that they buy something for Mom and Dad. Maybe if they have a brother or sister,” he said. “Usually for Mom or Dad, they’ll buy them a winter jacket or slippers or something like that. Or for Dad they’ll get a shaving kit.”
For themselves, Greer said many kids opt for toys, Legos or DVDs. And, being seen walking through the store with a firefighter is an added bonus.
“We show up in our bunker gear. And we bring our firetruck out,” he said.
Aside from all the receiving families, Grose’s family will also be on-hand to join in the celebration.
Greer notes Grose’s mother has already pledged to carry on one of her son’s traditions when it comes to Shop With a Fireman: “Randy was the kind of guy that, if one of the kids went a little over in their spending, he’d reach into his wallet and pay the difference so no one had to put back something they’d picked out,” he said.
“You can tell that’s where Randy probably got it from,” he added, referencing Grose’s mother’s intention to do the same.
Also helping with the cost of the gift items is the fact that many discounts will be added as associates ring up the participants’ purchases. “They’ll definitely pay less than what the tag says,” said Don Maurer, one of the store’s assistant managers.
Maurer added the store has donated wrapping paper, ribbon and tape, and associates will wrap the items the young shoppers choose to give as gifts.
In a show of its memory of Grose and the impact he had on their store, Wal-Mart has planted a tree near its pharmacy entrance in his honor, with a memorial stone calling him a “community ambassador.”
Also, in keeping Grose’s love for Christmas at the forefront, employees have carried on his tradition of counting down the days until Christmas — no matter how far away the holiday may be — through a picture of Grose and Sparky the firehouse dog located behind the service desk. Greer said even when holding employee meetings in June, Grose would start every meeting announcing how many days were left on the calendar until Christmas.
The Shop With a Fireman program gets underway at the Tiffin Avenue Wal-Mart at 6:30 p.m.