ITALY — The Guns & Hoses showdown will be here before you know it — in one day, to be exact.
The Italy Fire District and Police Departments, in coordination with the Shop With a Hero Corporation, will hold the sixth annual installation of the force vs. force softball game on Saturday at the Italy Softball Complex.
The game, however, is so much more than bats, balls, dingers and total runs.
"It's all for the greater cause of the community," said Brad Elliott, the vice president of the Shop With a Hero Corporation. "From the new police chief stepping up, taking charge and attending every board meeting to the fire chief making stuff move so Saturday happens, they have been completely committed to making this year successful for the city of Itay."
While many residents throughout Ellis County can afford gifts during the Christmas holiday, there are others that cannot tackle the financial task by themselves. The Shop With a Hero volunteers, sponsors, donators and city government works to help fill in the gaps and provide aid to children chosen by Italy ISD.
He said the more money that is raised the more children that will be able to have a great Christmas this year, noting newly-appointed Italy Police Chief Mike Taylor, Italy Fire Chief Don Chambers and Italy Mayor Jackie Cate's involvement throughout the process.
"I'm so thankful for the citizens of our community and their generosity for such a great cause," Taylor said. "Hopefully, we can all hand down to the next generation the philosophy of selfless service to others."
Chambers also commended the board of directors for the hard work and countless hours spent putting on the yearly benefit, noting those efforts would be for naught if not for the citizen's dedication to a worthy cause.
"I am grateful to serve in a city that puts the community first," Cate added to Chambers and Taylor's thoughts. "I'm thankful for those who have donated money, time and energy to such a great cause. I couldn't be prouder to be the mayor of a city as great as Italy."
According to 2017 city-data.com population statistics, 1,898 residents are living within the borders of the city. The Estimated Per Capita Income so far this year is $21,836. Per the Health and Human Services policy guideline, that dollar amount was just above the national mark for a family of three ($20,420) and almost $3,000 below for a family of four ($24,600).
The 501c(3) corporation, as it has done since 2011, has called local officers, firefighters and Italy High School students to become heroes and heroines for children in the city's community and families in need and buddy with them on the holiday shopping trips.
Officers like Matt Barron, athletes like April Lusk and children like Jordyn Holmes, Jayden Hooks and Aaron Noriega.
The Guns and Hoses game has been a tool to help bridge the gap.
"We created it because of community awareness of the opportunity to take kids in need shopping for their families," Elliott said. "It started as 'Shop With a Cop' but evolved after we realized we could do more together after the first game. Every year since, it's grown. The first year we took five kids shopping and last year we were able to take nine and give away two $500 scholarships."
The game has helped raise awareness about not only the need for aid during the Christmas season but also the necessary step the community must take to help its fellow man, woman and child.
The leaders of Italy, too, have worked for months connecting the city government with the community, shifting their focus and full support to the efforts of Shop With a Hero.
"It would have been nothing without the bond between the city police department and the city fire district, which helped raise the amount of money we could bring in for these families in need," Elliott said. "Even though you have the police side and the fire side, it's more of a brotherhood taking care of the community. It's the true public servant stepping up and saying, 'These are our people. We're going to take care of them.'"
The focus of fostering a relationship with the community and spreading a message of hope begins and ends with the children that represent the city's future — including ones that often put family before their own needs.
"The reaction from the kids is overwhelmingly grateful," Elliott said. " When we take those kids to Walmart to shop and you see the expression of happiness on their faces and their behavior and demeanor when they're walking up and down the aisles, it's almost too much. You look in the basket and ask them if they're going to get something for themselves. They look at you and say, 'My family's more important. I'll get my stuff last.' That makes me want to cry because it reassures me that there's still hope for our future.
"They're kids but it's not about me, me, me, it's about having a family to take care of and this is my opportunity to do it. In the last four years that I've had a chance to go with them and shop, every single one of those kids had that attitude."
Companies that would like to become the sponsors can contact either Brad Elliott at 214-399-6986 or Karen Mathiowetz at 972-268-5005.
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI