Free turkey dinners draw 100 families to Santa Ana Police Department’s giveaway


For Sylvia Salazar, a Santa Ana mother of three with 25 guests anticipating a mouth-watering Thanksgiving meal, the Santa Ana Police Department’s turkey giveaway was a godsend.

“It’s nice to know that the police care about the Santa Ana community,” said Salazar as she drove up to receive the free meal. “I’m extra thankful this year because of it.”

Santa Ana Police Explorers Sahil Singh and Steven Guerrero, right, place a box with a Thanksgiving meal in the back of an SUV in front of police headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Santa Ana Police Department distributed 100 turkeys and Thanksgiving sides on Nov. 23, the afternoon immediately before the holiday, thanks to the generosity of Connie McKinney, owner of Chelos Bakery at 5401 W. First St., a traditional Mexican panaderia serving pan dulce, tamales, and other sweets since 1979.

“During COVID, I felt it was such a difficult time for everybody,” McKinney says. “But our business flourished, and I wanted to give back to the community. I felt so grateful for all that I have when others were truly suffering.”

Boxes of Thanksgiving meals are stacked waiting to be distributed by Santa Ana police officers at police headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The first year, Chelos donated 25 turkey dinners that the police department distributed to families impacted by crime or poverty, she says. In the second year, the bakery donated 50 meals, and this year, 100. Each box contained a frozen turkey, canned corn, stuffing, and mashed potato mix, as well as fresh bread from the bakery.

“Giving is a wonderful feeling,” McKinney says. “It makes you want to give more. At our Thanksgiving, I was grateful for my family and that we’ve been blessed; we work hard and have our issues, but we’ve been able to provide without much difficulty.”

“We would love to see this effort grow and include more families,” she adds, emphasizing that she is open to partnering with other small local businesses to expand the giveaway.

Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Guerrero hands out a box with a Thanksgiving meal during the SAPD’s meal distribution. Officer Mario Perez is right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

For the police department, the Thanksgiving giveaway provided the opportunity to reach out.

“Especially with the way many people feel about law enforcement, events like this one show residents that we love to support our community,” says Officer Josh Park, who works on the department’s Special Enforcement Team. “Outside of performing crime investigations, it is good that we can help families with the holidays.”

With SAPD’s motto, “Community First,” in mind, the department offered the turkey dinners to the first 100 people who registered after seeing the giveaway advertised on social media and the website, says Social Media Coordinator Yesenia Aspeitia.

Santa Ana Police Service Officer Nancy Lopez helps direct cars that came for the Thanksgiving meal distribution.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“We want to remind residents that the Santa Ana PD isn’t here just to solve crime, but that we have many other resources available to assist families,” Aspeitia adds. “We want them to know that we are part of this community and we’re here to help.”

Police Services Officer Melissa Ortega was happy to be part of the team handing out the holiday boxes in a drive-through assembly line set up outside police department headquarters.

“Giving back to the community is critical as we strive to build important relationships with our citizens,” Ortega notes. “We want them to be willing to talk with us about any issues they may have.”

Corporal David Carrillo, adviser to SAPD’s Explorer Program, oversaw the traffic-directing efforts of a handful of Explorers at the event.

Santa Ana Police Officer Nick Provencio carries a Thanksgiving meal box to a car as the SAPD distributes 100 turkeys with Thanksgiving sides to local residents. Officer Steven Guerrero is right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“The Explorer Program shows young people that police officers give back to the community daily,” Carrillo says. “But we are especially thankful to be here to facilitate the holiday for families in need.”

Nancy Lopez, who’s worked for the Santa Ana Police Department for 13 years, is happy to serve as a police services officer and honored to serve local families during the holidays.

“I was born and raised in Santa Ana,” Lopez says, “and serving this community is such a blessing.”

Santa Ana Police Officer Steven Guerrero lifts a Thanksgiving turkey meal box into a car that was on the list.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Gabriela Laufer, lead public service officer, agrees that the job of welcoming families to the free giveaway was a rewarding experience.

“There have been many smiles,” she says, “and many thanks.”

It was Salazar’s second trip to police headquarters in a month, she says.

“I brought our 4-year-old daughter, Hazel, to the department’s Halloween party. She dressed as Superwoman,” Salazar said. “Because of events like these, she knows that the police are here to help her if she needs them.”

Cars of families who signed up ahead of time line up in front of Santa Ana police headquarters for a Thanksgiving turkey meal giveaway.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge