Gilroy Exchange Club member Lori Hawk and her daughter Fiona, 8, far right, shop with cousins Briana Barrios, 7, and Kayla Muniz, 7, during the Gilroy Exchange Club's back to school shopping event at Kohl's August 9. The event helped 44 children in need g
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On the morning of Aug. 9, 44 local children and their families got the chance to do something they otherwise couldn’t: go shopping for new back-to-school clothes. They went shopping at Kohl’s on Camino Arroyo, where each child picked out roughly $115 in new clothing. But when the families arrived at the registers to check out, members of the Gilroy Exchange Club footed the bill.
For 20 years, the Exchange Club has ensured that Gilroy children in need have clothes for school, but this was a record year. By the end of the month, 80 kids will have new clothing that fits them when classes start, compared to 65 children last year.
Five officers with the Gilroy Police Department, 15 Exchange Club members and five volunteers accompanied the children and their families as they scoured the aisles looking for new outfits. The Exchange Club raised enough money to give each child about $100 worth of attire during the “Shop With a Cop” event, and Kohl’s offered a 30 percent discount at the registers.
Donors for the shopping spree also included Garlic Festival co-founder and owner of Christopher Ranch, Don Christopher, Mama Mia’s Italian Restaurant owner Majid Bahriny, the Gilroy Police Officers Association and the California Highway Patrol’s El Camino Club.
“I like helping the families that don’t have enough,” said Exchange Club member Mary Donahue. “To see the joy on the kids’ faces when they’re getting new clothes or something they wouldn’t normally get when they’re shopping with their families makes it all worth it.”
GPD Officer Jason Greathead spent a few hours shopping with two brothers, Max and Elijah Ortiz, 4 and 8 years old, respectively.
“It’s cool to see them get these gifts, and they really appreciate it,” Greathead said as he walked towards the shoe section of the store. “That’s the best part.”
The grandmother and legal guardian of the two brothers, Pam Ortiz, said she was grateful the Exchange Club chose her family.
“I wasn’t able to buy them anything for school,” Pam said. “There’s nothing like going back to school with new shoes and new clothes.”
The boys, who asked to be paired with a police officer, were excited when they saw Greathead dressed in his uniform. The Exchange Club also helps to promote crime prevention and recognize public safety service providers.
“I think that’s another perk for my boys. Every kid needs a little respect for the police,” Pam added.
Argelia Gaucin, the foster mother of 8-year-old Jose Mungia, shopped alongside Exchange Club member Norma Rymers.
“I’m so happy to bring my kid to buy things. I’m so happy,” Gaucin said, fighting back tears. “I’m so happy because somebody else is helping us. I’m happy for him. I’m happy and I’m grateful.”
On the other side of the store, GPD Multi-Service Officer Kim Sullivan spent part of the morning helping 6-year-old Elizabeth Fregoso pick out clothes—mostly pink, her favorite color—for the upcoming school year.
“You’re going to be styling with all of this glitter,” Sullivan said as Fregoso, soon to be a first grader at Eliot Elementary School, tried on a pair of slip-on Hello Kitty shoes.
Sullivan’s husband, GPD School Resource Officer Pat Sullivan, also went shopping with a child in need.
“Who doesn’t like to shop?” Kim said with a laugh. “I’ve never done it before and thought it would be fun. It is fun and it’s for a good cause, too.”
According to longtime Exchange Club member Eleanor Villarreal, the back-to-school event is just one of many club activities that help Gilroyans, but it’s one of the most rewarding.
“It doesn’t get any better than shopping with these little kids,” Villarreal said, standing near the packet checkout area. “I like being with the families and watching how happy they are to get things they probably wouldn’t get otherwise. If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t have very much for school.”
The Exchange Club, along with CHP officers, will return to Kohl’s at the end of the month to shop for 36 other children in need. According to Rymers, the club will also sponsor an event to give Gilroy Unified School District teachers the school supplies they need. The club will host a fundraising dinner on Nov. 7 at Portuguese Hall, located at 250 Old Gilroy St., to support its activities.

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