Two students from McAllen ISD walk in with Santa Claus, aka Steve Ayala McAllen police officer, as they do some Christmas shopping at Target on Wednesday, Dec.11, 2019 in McAllen. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor dlopez@themonitor.com

The 152 McAllen school district students taking part in Target’s Heroes and Helpers program Wednesday morning swarmed into the store in an orderly mob, police officers pushing carts alongside the kids and guiding them down the aisles.

Some of the kids wanted toys. Others wanted clothes, or a pair of shoes. Some kids weren’t quite sure what they wanted, or even where to look for it: they’d never been to Target before.

The students were selected to take part in the event by public safety and city agencies, each of them receiving about $80 in spending money out of the $12,000 donated by the event’s partner organizations.

Target representative Louie Rodriguez said the company has held Heroes and Helpers in McAllen for the past three years.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding when you see the kids and get to interact with them, get to ask what they’re shopping for,” Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, students often shop altruistically, avoiding the toy section and focusing on purchases for their families.

“It’s really awesome to see these kids and how selfless they are. You’d think they’d just buy toys, but for the most part, they buy essentials, and that’s awesome,” he said. “Normally it’s clothes, or something for their mom, or dad, or brothers and sisters.”

Rodriguez says in addition to brightening the childrens’ Christmas, Heroes and Helpers is aimed at fostering ties between the community’s youth and local law enforcement.

“We really want the kids to look at law enforcement as their heroes and not something to be feared,” he said.

Officers from the McAllen Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection partnered off with students and helped keep track of their purchases, frantically scribbling down prices and adding up sums to keep the total value of the items around $80.

“While they’re fiddling around over there, we’ll shop somewhere else and come back when they clear out,” a CBP agent told his shopper, steering him past the bustling toy department.

J.L. Garcia, a detective with McAllen police was helping a pair of girls who were taking turns tossing toys into his cart. He was having a hard time keeping up with the math.

“Especially when they keep piling stuff in. Good thing I’ve only got two,” Garcia said.

Although Garcia had never participated in Heroes and Helpers before, he was enjoying it.

“It’s a very, very wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s an interaction with a police officer, so they see us in speaking before the event, McAllen ISD Superintendent Jose Gonzalez complimented the entities that made Heroes and Helpers possible.

“This is the Christmas season, it’s a time of giving, and McAllen ISD is a wonderful place to be, because we have great leaders, a great chief, a great mayor, a great school district, and we all make it happen together,” he said.