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Police officers take kids Christmas shopping through Heroes and Helpers

DeKALB – When Audra Lehnert was shopping for dolls on Sunday, she managed to find the right one with the help of a DeKalb police sergeant. 

Audra, 8, was walking through the toy aisle at Target with DeKalb police Sgt. Steve Lekkas in tow when she spotted a Lalaloopsy Doll. Audra, who came to the store with her tiara on, is a huge fan of dolls. 

"It's what I always wanted," she said as she picked up the box for the doll. 

Target and the police department's Benevolent and Protective Association gave about 42 children such as Lehnert $100 and the chance to go shopping with officers from the DeKalb Police Department. It was all part of the third annual Heroes and Helpers program, which doubled in participation this year. 

For Chad McNett, the police department's community relations officer, it was a good problem to have. 

"That means more people know about it and more people are willing to help out and give donations," he said. 

About 15 officers came to Target to guide the children and their families through the aisles and make sure whatever they grabbed was under each person's $100 budget. Lyndale "Cody" Roberts, 6, was eager to find toys as he rode down the store aisles on a shopping cart. 

Trying to keep up with him was his helper, DeKalb police Officer John Loechel, who joined the police department about nine months ago. 

"It's wonderful," Loechel said about Heroes and Helpers. "I know it's a cliche answer but it's a chance to give back and help out the community." 

Some of the toys Cody got for himself was a Nerf gun and a tall Darth Vader doll. 

Heroes and Helpers not only allows children to shop for Christmas presents but also expose them to police officers in a positive way, said Brian Wedoff, assets protection group leader at the Target Distribution Center. He said the volunteers at Target will wrap up the gifts the children choose for themselves and the police will bring it to them on Christmas. 

"We provide presents for family that otherwise may not have any or definitely make sure they have something under the tree this year," he said. 

Lehnert's mother, Heather, who works as a hair stylist, said her husband has been out of work for more than a year and most of what they have goes toward medical expenses. Audra Lehnert has Kabuki syndrome, a heart condition and other health problems, she said. 

"I think it's good because they won't get scared [of the police]," Heather Lehnert said. "And it helps because they otherwise wouldn't have had this." 

Heather Lehnert's son Trevor got to shop as well but he wasn't just finding toys for himself. He also was finding items for others, such as his sister. 

"I can see in his basket he's got toys for her," she said. "… before we came here he asked, 'Mommy, what do you want for Christmas?' " 

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