UCC, city of Newark serve up holiday cheer at Shop With a Hero event

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NEWARK, NJ — United Community Corporation and the city of Newark made more than 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 Saturday, Dec. 17, 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.

Each child, joined by their parent/guardian, 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,” UCC Executive Director Craig Mainor said. “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,” Quiles said. “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.”

This event is meant to build lasting bonds and mentorships between youths in Newark and local heroes by humanizing the people behind the badge or mask.

“We’re about keeping everyone safe,” said New Jersey Institute of Technology Police 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 at-risk families; the event takes care of presents for the holidays so families can use their money for 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.

“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 children, 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.”

Photos Courtesy of UCC