Tustin police and Santa give gifts to hospital residents

By Rebecca D’Auria

Santa’s booming “ho, ho, ho’s,” echoed through Tustin’s Foothill Regional Medical Center as plastic red wagons filled with brightly wrapped gifts rumbled down the halls on Dec. 5.

“I can’t explain the visit, you just need to see it for yourself,” Police Services Officer Adriana Tokar said. “It is very touching.”

Employees of the Tustin Police Department, along with Santa Clause, handed gifts to around 30 brain-injured children and young adults.

Tustin Police Officer Jennifer Dlugitch, left, and Lt. Brian Greene deliver Christmas gifts with the help of Santa to kids at Foothill Regional Medical Center in Tustin.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“The police reach out to us every year and bring some things that are fun for the kids, along with Santa, and some other care products that they need, like socks, shampoos, and lotions,” Interim Director Donna McAlmond said.

However, the Tustin Police Department isn’t the only one behind the visit. The City of Tustin also participates. Every year, employees from both companies pick names and donate gifts based on a wish list provided by family members.

The hospital staff refer to the patients as residents, and all the residents are in need of full-time care.

“The residents are anywhere from infants to age 21, and some of them have congenital issues, some of them have motor vehicular issues, some of them have extremely serious injuries,” Chief Nursing Officer Glenda Luce said. “They come in here and live until they’re either able to go home, which is rare but it does happen, or they age out and go to another facility.”

Tustin Police Officer Josh Schlesinger wheels Christmas toys from the van into the hospital for the children staying there.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The hospital staff and residents aren’t the only ones who are appreciative of the visit; so are members of the Tustin Police Department.

“I don’t do this for me. This is one I do for the kids. We love coming here to the hospital,” Santa Clause, played by Tustin PD Police Services Officer Steve Giddings, said as he began to tear up. “Everybody deserves to see Santa. They can’t get up to see Santa. So for me to be able to come and see the kids is a great opportunity for us to share the love of the community, the love of the police department, and the City of Tustin, to the children in our community.”

The Christmas season is far from the only reason the Tustin Police Department visits the residents.

Tustin Civilian Police Commander Katarina Thomas, left, helps Santa deliver gifts to kids at Foothill Regional Medical Center in Tustin.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I help out because I just can’t imagine the struggle [residents] deal with on a daily basis,” Sibling Commander Katarina Thomas said. “In life there is a lot of tragedy and inconvenience, but we get to go home and they don’t, so this really puts life in perspective.”

The residents also enjoy seeing and interacting with the officers and Mr. Clause.

Chelsea Watson, left, and David Kanoti of the Tustin Police Department line up in the hallways of Foothill Regional Medical Center as they and other volunteers from the Tustin Police Department deliver gifts to children.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“Kids here, they don’t usually have a lot of interaction with the environment,” Nurse Misty Wixom said. “This event is nice because they get a little bit of excitement from the outside world that they normally don’t have.”

Along with increasing resident morale, the department’s visit brings joy to the families as well.

“It’s important to get out and help community, especially in a hospital, because it lets the families and the kids know they’re not forgotten by anybody,” said Sergeant Sean Whiteley of the Professional Standards Division. “We let recruits know that this was going to be part of what they do. We aren’t just fighting crime – that’s one part of it – but this is a very important part of being a Tustin officer, to keep the community engaged and build bridges whenever we can.”

Chelsea Watson, left, and Katarina Thomas of the Tustin Police Department deliver presents to kids at the Foothill Regional Medical Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The staff at Foothill Regional Medical Center gathers with Santa as the Tustin Police Department visits the hospital.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Tustin Police Department helps Santa as they deliver Christmas gifts to kids at the Foothill Regional Medical Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge