Tustin Police Department’s annual Santa Cop festivities spread good cheer to needy families

By Lou Ponsi

A warm meal enjoyed with family and dear friends.

Children playing games and opening presents.

Holiday tunes echoing in the background.

The scene is repeated in homes around the country this time of year — and also at the Tustin Community Center, where children and their families might not have gifts to open or a meal to share with loved ones, if it wasn’t for Santa Cop.

Families enjoy a photo booth, along with games, prizes, food, gifts, and a special visit from Santa at the Tustin Police Department’s Santa Cop event.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Organized by the Tustin Police Department for the 29th consecutive year, Santa Cop treats specially selected kids and their families to an evening of holiday-themed activities highlighted by a visit from Santa Claus and a chance to take a selfie with the Jolly Old Elf.

The kids received gifts – some even won bicycles in a raffle – and a traditional Christmas dinner, played games, and had their faces painted.

“To me, this is a celebration of our relationship with the community,” Acting Chief Jeff Blair said. “For us, this is a chance (for the community) to see the police in a positive light in a non-threatening setting.”

Emily Guzman (back row from left), Erica Hernandez, Valentin Hernandez; Damon Hernandez (bottom row from left), Eric Hernandez, and Valentin Hernandez Jr. pose for a photo during Santa Cop, hosted by the Tustin Police Department. Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

The invited families are referred by schools, area churches, the Tustin Family and Youth Center. and by the officers themselves.

Tustin resident Maria Jennifer Sison was invited this year, along with her two adopted sons who are 4 and 6 years old.

“I’m lucky to be chosen,” Sison said. “It’s a good thing that the police station is doing this. They make a lot of children happy. It shows that the police are concerned about the community.”

Tustin police volunteer Ray Ledger, left, hands out prizes during Santa Cop at the Tustin Community Center.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Donations from City of Tustin employees, Tustin Police Department employees, the Tustin Lions Club, the Tustin Community Foundation, and Smart & Final make the event possible.

Police recruits from the Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West College dished out food in a buffet line and carried bags of presents to cars for the families.

Sweet treats are ready to eat as families enjoy games, prizes, food and a special visit from Santa at the Tustin Police Department’s Santa Cop event.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

“One of the parts of being a police officer is being able to interact with the community,” recruit Kimberly Aggabao, 35, of Anaheim said. “This is exactly what I envisioned as being part of a police officer’s job … being able to work with families and kids and having a partnership with the community.”

The first-ever Santa Cop included 13 families who were served punch and cookies, and that was pretty much it, said Community Services Officer Adriana Tokar, who’s been organizing the event for 25 years.

Martinique Carranza, 8, had her face painted with Christmas lights during Santa Cop with the Tustin Police Department.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

“Some of these kids would have little or no Christmas at all, so this brings a smile to their face and it makes us happy and it helps the families out too,” Tokar said. “If this program would have been in place when I was young, then I would have been part of this program.”

Sofia Meza, who came to the event along with her 7- and 8-year-old daughters, was pleased to see her local police officers in a non-traditional setting.

“I really love it,” Meza said. “It wasn’t just giving out presents. I kind of like that they are showing themselves and that they are not just about enforcement. They are people too.”

Families enjoy games, prizes, food, and a special visit from Santa.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Santa arrives for Santa Cop, hosted by the Tustin Police Department, at the Tustin Community Center. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Maria Sison and her sons Anthony, 5, left, and Nick, 6, right, receive dinner during Santa Cop.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Everyone watches as Santa Claus arrives at the Tustin Community Center. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Ixel Mendoza, 7, talks to Santa Claus at the Tustin Community Center.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Vanilo Mejia, 2, was all smiles with his father Saul Mejia after winning a bike during Santa Cop hosted by the Tustin Police Department. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Sydney Pawling, 8, won a bike during the Tustin Police Department’s Santa Cop event. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Chief Jeff Blair hands gifts to the Alvarado family during Santa Cop.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Chief Jeff Blair hands gifts to the Guerrero family during Santa Cop, hosted by the Tustin Police Department. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Chief Jeff Blair hands gifts to Jennifer Davis, her daughter Joia, and sons Emmanuel and Noah, during Santa Cop hosted by the Tustin Police Department. 
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Chief Jeff Blair hands gifts to Louis Martinez and his son Jesus Martinez, 9.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge

Golden West College recruits volunteered to help with Santa Cop, hosted by the Tustin Police Department. The annual event features games, prizes, dinner, and gifts for selected Tustin families.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge