The sound of shoppers slowly began to fill the clothing section of an Anaheim Target Store early Friday, July 21. But the babble brewed well before the doors opened to regular customers, as 36 underprivileged kids got some special treatment.
Pushing the carts were local volunteers, many of whom were from the Anaheim Police Department, Anaheim Fire & Rescue and local Rotarians too. They all came together for the annual Back to School Day event. Organized and sponsored by the Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation, the early morning shopping spree at the Euclid Street Target store helped local underprivileged kids get new clothes for school. A similar event is held each year for Christmas.
Up and down the aisles, volunteers — including Police Chief Raul Quezada and Fire Chief Randy Bruegman — chatted with the kids. Poignantly, one of the most common things overheard was also perhaps the most important.
“Yeah, it’s OK. Get what you want.”
For several of the kids, these were the first new clothes they had ever tried on.
“I volunteered because I wanted to take the time to help the community I work in everyday,” said APD Det. Vincent Dinh. “I also wanted to do my part to build bridges with the community and get to know the families. It’s very rewarding to be part of such a good cause.”
Fire Chief Bruegman said it was easy to take part in the event because “I find inspiration in the young people that we get to interact with and spend time with,” he said. “While the shopping trip provides much- needed clothes and school supplies as they prepare to go back to school, it also provides an opportunity for them to meet many of our community leaders, and understand that many of them came from the same beginnings that they do. I think that helps them to realize that when they grow up they have the opportunity to do many things in their life and pursue their dreams as well. ”
Armed with a $125 gift certificate, each child, from pre-school to high-school age, had about an hour to pick up essentials. The only limitation was no purses, accessories or toys.
“It’s extremely rewarding that we’re able to give back,” said Anaheim Police Dept. Lt. Willie Triplett II, who manages justice center operations. Quoting from the law enforcement code of ethics, he said: “As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind. I know how these events affect them because we get comments like, ‘We never would have had a Christmas without this.’”
Tracy Theodore, executive director of the foundation, said the kids are chosen by the center’s facilitators after the kids go through the center’s kids empowerment and violence prevention programs.
“The need is huge,” she said. “Hundreds come to our programs.”
The OCFJC Foundation partners with law enforcement and social services to help victims and families affected by domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and elder abuse.
But the experience for volunteers can be almost as rewarding as it is for the kids. The five-year-old event has never had a hard time finding volunteers, and even a few of the Target employees came in on their day off to help out.
Foundation chairperson Susan Bruegman said the effect on many of the children is instant.
“We try to help out new families each time,” she said. “They get so excited to pick out these clothes.”
Though the kids got a lesson in budgeting during the shopping spree, some also expressed their own generosity.
“Sometimes kids will ask, ‘Can we get some socks for my brother?’’’ Susan Bruegman said. The request is usually obliged.
But there were a few who still went over their $125 limit. For them, Bruegman said, volunteers put down their own credit cards. With a smile.
“When you see the kids’ faces, it’s all worth it.”