CARMEL, Ind. – “What do you like?” two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya asks. “Star Wars? Legos? Nerf?”
“I like Nerf guns!” says Keshawn, a light saber-wielding 6-year-old, who is Montoya’s shopping partner for the annual “Shop with a Colt” event hosted by Team Penske sponsor Meijer.
Montoya and Penske teammate Helio Castroneves returned to Indianapolis on Dec. 15 to be part of the ninth annual event, which pairs underserved boys and girls with an INDYCAR driver or Indianapolis Colts football player and staff and takes them to a local Meijer store for a pizza party and $200 shopping spree each holiday season.
Montoya, a “Shop with a Colt” rookie, and Keshawn hit the aisles in search of Nerf guns and quickly find a Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot blaster. Somehow, the light saber, which was set aside, also finds its way into the basket before Montoya and Keshawn spend the rest of the time looking for clothes that the boy needs for winter.
“It’s pretty cool, to be honest with you, and It’s nice to give back,” said Montoya, who admitted he doesn’t shop for clothes with his own three children – Sebastian, 10, Paulina, 9, and Manuela, 5. “They do an amazing job here at Meijer bringing the players and drivers together with the kids. To help and support the community is pretty special.”
Many of the children had already planned their shopping lists in advance, but soon learned they would need to make room for one more gift, but not one for themselves. Instead, each child was provided an additional $20 Meijer gift card to purchase a toy to donate to the “Toys for Tots” program.
Castroneves, a veteran of the event, donned reindeer ears and served as an elf for groups of children looking for specific toys to donate. He suggested what board games he’d buy – “I found one called Dance Charades; that’s my game,” the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and former “Dancing with the Stars” champion said – and helped another child find dinosaur toys with the assistance of Colts mascot Blue.
“This is the time for us to reflect and look back and appreciate what we have,” said Castroneves, who also helped bag the kids’ shopping items as they checked out. ”For me, to see the smile on all the little faces is a prize you can’t describe. It’s a time of the year to forgive and forget, especially all the bad stuff that happened. For me, it’s a great opportunity that Meijer gives us to do this each year.”
This is the sixth year that a Team Penske driver has participated in the program created to give children in need the opportunity to purchase items they could not otherwise afford, while also enjoying a special holiday experience with celebrities from the Colts and Verizon IndyCar Series.
“We spend a lot of time here in Indy with the (Indianapolis) 500 activities and with INDYCAR based here. It’s our second home,” Montoya said. “At the end of the day, it’s not about us. It’s about the kids and the experience of buying and getting presents. Just spending time with kids like Keshawn, taking them shopping and spending time looking after them, is really cool.”