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December 19, 2012
The adventure started with Mahari and Mianni securely inside one of Meijer's blue shopping carts.
Mom Nakia Gross was at the controls, having just met Purdue freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson and gotten the rundown on the rules for the evening.
With Lafayette Family Services partnering with Meijer, Boilermaker basketball players and Lafayette Fastbreakers Club, Nakia had $300 to spend for Christmas for her kids.
Mahari and Mianni didn't stay in the cart for long.
They hadn't even reached the most-desired kid spree location - the toy section - before they were scrambling to get free. Out hopped Mahari when he saw a display in the middle of the aisle that had mini basketballs and cars packaged near Barbies. Mianni quickly followed, staring at all of the choices. After much consideration, she finally picked a Barbie paint book and jumped up and down and shouted, "Yes!"
Mahari wasn't that picky. He grabbed as much as his 6-year-old hands could carry, then dumped everything into the cart.
Finally, mom got them to move on, chatting with Johnson along the way, talking family, talking Christmas.
Then, they hit the aisles filled with toys.
Nearly all of the 15 families paired with men's players were there, too, clogging up the aisles searching for the just-right LEGO set, board game, action figure or doll.
"Overwhelming," Nakia called it later with a laugh.
Nearly every item that he came across, Mahari's eyes widened and his smile exposed two missing front teeth.
Mianni was on her knees on the ground, gazing at doll houses and Barbie clothes and accessories, and started singing Jingle Bells.
"They had fun, which is all that matters in the end to me," Nakia said. "Ronnie asked me if I was going to get anything for me, and I could have, but I just wanted to make sure they were taken care of and they have what they need. If they're happy, I'm happy."
After snatching the board game "Battleship," Mahari declared that he was done shopping. That was what he came for, and "I want nothing else."
Until he looked farther down the aisle.
"Just one more thing, that's it," he said.
Then he grabbed a LEGO set, declaring it "awesome."
And, again, offered, "I only got one more thing, and that's it."
Then he went exploring again. And kept adding things to the cart before Johnson chipped in, finding a remote control red Camaro - "I used to like these as a kid," Johnson said - and asking what Mahari thought.
"Remote control? Let's go! That's good!" he yelled. "Let's go find some batteries!"
Meanwhile, Mahari's older sister, who will turn 8 next month, zeroed in on Barbie stuff. She found a house she liked - and enlisted Mahari to help her carry the large box it was in - but mom cautioned her to look at the price.
"That says sale," Mianni countered.
But $70 is still a hefty price tag, so mom told daughter to do the math, knowing if Mianni got that, she'd have to put other things back.
Back went the house.
And the shopping continued.
By the end of the 70-minute excursion, the Gross family pulled up to the checkout line with an overflowing cart. They even had to keep some things at the store, getting ready to creep over the $300 limit.
Johnson made sure the remote control car made the cut, as well as a Purdue T he picked out for Mahari, and the eventful night was done.
And worth every moment.
"It's a good feeling to give rather than receive all the time," Johnson said. "Not everybody has the opportunities we have, and it's nice we can give back and help the community out.
"It was fun. It's a good experience to go around helping them find out what they really want to have a good Christmas."
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