Heavy-hearted longtime Volusia Sheriff's Office helper shops for kids
By Patricio G. Balona
PORT ORANGE — At 19, Michelle Wichman is a veteran of Christmas shopping for the charity her father helped establish to brighten the holidays for children in need.
But this year, as the 100 Deputies 100 Kids charity celebrates 25 years of serving local children, the teen on Friday felt a little lonely picking out toys at Walmart because her longtime shopping partner wasn't with her.
The group's anniversary is a bittersweet milestone for Wichman, a criminal justice major at Daytona State College, who aspires to be a law enforcement officer in the future.
Her father, Mike Wichman, 57, a deputy and one of the founders of the charity, died last year just after putting together bicycles and wrapping gifts to be distributed to children at the program's party. Michelle Wichman was 6 years old when her father started taking her shopping because of her “expertise” in picking out toys for children her age, she said in-between smiles and tears.
“He made it through the shopping and wrapping but he did not make it to the party last year,” said Michelle Wichman, unable to hold back tears.
Even though she knew it would be difficult to shop without her father this year, Wichman showed up at the Walmart Supercenter on Dunlawton Avenue to help at least 25 volunteers who loaded carts with toys and presents.
“It's something he would have wanted me to do,” said Wichman, who said her father personally provided holiday presents for more than 300 children over the years. “I know he is here in spirit.”
Mike Wichman had finished assembling bicycles and wrapping gifts Dec. 11, 2012, and left at 8:30 p.m., saying he would see his fellow workers the next day. He died of a heart attack that night, said Judie Edwards, chairwoman of the 100 Deputies 100 Kids organization.
But the charity Mike Wichman helped start is growing and going strong, said Edwards, who has led the charity for 15 years.
This year, 288 children — 164 boys, 124 girls, including eight infants — will benefit from the Christmas program and get presents at a party Dec. 12. The group spent more than $14,000, Edwards said.
The charity raises money from fundraisers but also gets between $4,000 and $5,000 from Walmart, said store manager Kevin Robinson. Robinson said the wife of a retired deputy worked at Walmart and got the store involved 25 years ago.
“Donating to help kids evolved into a lasting partnership,” Robinson said. “I just like to see business and local officials being involved in making this a better place; 288 kids is just the tip of the iceberg of those who cannot afford a decent Christmas.”
Walmart had 20 associates working with the deputies and volunteers shopping for toys.
The charity group also gets donations from the Margarita Society, a group of businesspeople and professionals, Edwards said.
The hottest gift item flying off the shelf for children in the charity is the Cra-Z-Loom toy, an object used to make colorful rubber band bracelets, Robinson said.
Like Michelle Wichman, a deputy's son, 8-year-old Jared Welty, has started learning the lesson of giving early. He was in his second year shopping for toys for children his age. He picked up packets of Lego Chima action figures and fishing rods.
“I like the Chima because you get to build and play with them,” the 8-year-old said. “I am sure the kids getting this will have fun with it too.”
Jared's father, deputy Kevin Welty, said he brought his child along because he wants to teach him the importance of being able to help those in need.
“It is important that he gets the message that we can give back and that it's important to teach that as a family.”
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
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