Council seniors shop with St. Cloud firefighters for Christmas

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock

Bonnie Vartanian gets some help shopping for a watch from Firefighter/EMT Yeison Betancur, who volunteered during the Shopping with Seniors event.

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

Many Christmas outreach programs focus on helping underprivileged children during the holiday season.

But Lisa Thompson, deputy chief of emergency management services at St. Cloud Fire Rescue, wanted to do something special for a different segment of the population – senior citizens.

“They make up an important part of our community, and we wanted a way to reach out to them,” Thompson said. “We wanted to make their Christmas brighter, too.”

Modeled after the national Shop With a Cop program, Shop With a Senior began three years ago

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock
Bonnie Vartanian gets some help shopping for a watch from Firefighter/EMT Yeison Betancur, who volunteered during the Shopping with Seniors event.

as a collaborative effort between the fire department and the Osceola County Council on Aging.

Each senior citizen is given $100 to spend however they chose during a special shopping trip to Walmart. Firefighters and volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 9 and St. Cloud High School accompanied the residents as they made their way through the aisles Wednesday.

The Council on Aging is tasked with choosing the group of 25 seniors who will go on the trip. Council Nutritional Director Wilda Belisle said her organization picks older, low-income residents who may not have family to spend the holidays with.

Some participants buy gifts for friends and loved ones, while others put the money toward personal items and food.

Belisle said the trip is less about what participants purchase and more about giving the seniors an opportunity to shop and socialize during the Christmas season.

“Some of them are homebound and don’t get to take trips like this often,” Belisle said. “It’s something they look forward to and enjoy.”

After the shopping trip, the group met at Cobblestone restaurant in St. Cloud for dinner. They were given gifts donated by community businesses, including fresh baked loaves of bread from a local bakery and hand-knitted blankets made by a volunteer.

Thompson said the primary fundraiser for Shopping With a Senior is the Fire Rescue’s annual golf tournament. Community organizations like the St. Cloud Rotary Club also donate to the event.

“We are fortunate to be in a town where people are more than happy to help,” Thompson said. “The seniors love the experience, and it’s a gift we’re more than happy to give.”