The Anaheim Police Department brought Christmas to the doorsteps of 125 families on Wednesday, delivering bags of toys and books to children who would otherwise go without presents this year.
The eighth annual Cops 4 Kids Toy Delivery dispatched police officers, cadets, explorers, and volunteers to drive presents to Anaheim houses, apartments, and motels. The department connected with about 500 children through the Anaheim City, Magnolia, and Centralia school districts because their families are part of the McKinney-Vento program that provides extra assistance to children who don’t have a fixed or regular residence.
“It puts everything into perspective of what Christmas is about,” said Gina Ruiz, a senior crime prevention specialist and Cops 4 Kids coordinator.
On Wednesday, Ruiz leaned over a map of Anaheim with dozens of dots, most clustered in West Anaheim, that marked the addresses of families chosen for a toy delivery. With dozens of people knocking on doors, Ruiz stayed behind at the police station with Officer Caryn Slechta to troubleshoot deliveries and make sure each gift went to the right child.
Cops 4 Kids is special among the many generous toy drives in Southern California because all of the collected toys and books stay in Anaheim, Ruiz said.
“You put in a toy in a donation box and it can go anywhere,” she said. “There are needy kids everywhere but there so many here so why not help them?”
The gift deliveries were possible because of donations from Anaheim city employees, Power Pro Plumbing, Hardin Honda, Anaheim Crossfit, MS International, Fairfield Inn, and other private donors.
Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros joined the caravan to bring Christmas fun to families living in apartments with one to six kids. Cisneros said he didn’t tell families that he was the police chief because he preferred they see him as just another person in uniform with whom they had a positive encounter.
“I grew up in apartments so it was kind of like going back to where I lived,” Cisneros said. “It was great to do something for others who need help at this time of year.”
Cisneros added that his delivery team found that there was a second family with children living with one of the families they were slated to meet. Luckily, they brought an extra bag of toys to hand out.
Every child visited by Anaheim police officers received at least two toys, such as a Moana doll or Avengers LEGO set, a book, or a puzzle to play with their family. Cops 4 Kids made it a priority to give each kid a puzzle to encourage families to spend time together during the holidays, Ruiz said.
Cadet Kristina Marusic recalled delivering presents to a family with eight children who slept on one mattress in the middle of the living room.
“We get really wrapped up in buying presents or hosting Christmas parties, and delivering the gifts makes our Christmas more meaningful,” Marusic said.
As a young Latina, Marusic hopes to inspire kids to follow in her footsteps by pursuing a career in law enforcement.
“When they actually see a person who looks like them [in uniform,]whether it’s color or anything else, it’s something they can aspire to be,” she said. “For these types of neighborhoods, the police often aren’t there for a positive reason. It’s important to show them that officers being there can be a good thing.”