The Orange Police Department SWAT team worked double-duty at the Ronald McDonald House in Orange on a recent Wednesday evening.
But instead of gearing up for a crisis situation, the team was there to offer a different kind of support for families in need as they face long-term hospital stays for their children.
“It’s just nice when we can give something back to the community,” SWAT Capt. Eric Rosauer said. “We’re real humans. We’re here to help, but we’re also here because we’re part of the community.”
As SWAT team members set up their gear outside the house, others from Orange PD, including Sgt. Phil McMullin, put their magic to work in the kitchen, cooking and serving rotisserie chicken, dinner rolls, macaroni and cheese, tri-tip, and pumpkin pie.
“On behalf of the Orange Police Department and SWAT Team, please come and eat,” McMullin said to the parents in the Ronald McDonald House dining room.
Parents and families who stay at the house receive two free meals a day from community donations, as well as free housing while children are receiving treatment at CHOC Children’s and other area hospitals, Ronald McDonald House Operations Director Katie Russell said.
“They’re out there and they’re keeping the community safe,” she said of the organization’s partnership with the Orange PD. “I think it’s important to show the compassionate side.”
Providing these families with food and a comfortable place to stay allows them to put all their energy into their ill child, she said.
“It’s nice to be able to come somewhere that feels like home,” said Jamie Niffenegger of Apple Valley, who is staying at the house while her newborn undergoes surgery for diaphragmatic hernia, a birth defect involving an abnormal opening in the baby’s diaphragm. “I think it’s the small things that help.”
While parents and officers shared a meal together in the dining area, SWAT and K9 officers held mini question-and-answer sessions with those walking in and out of the house.
Orange PD K9 Officer Damon Allen and German shepherd Danto, along with K9 Officer Mike Osborn and German shepherd Wyatt, were readily available to answer questions – while the dogs were more than happy to receive friendly pats on the back. One young child was blissfully content to give the dogs continuous attention.
Allen explained the various tools and gear utilized by the SWAT team that was laid out on the demo table.
“Do you guys play sports? This is just like a little megaphone,” he said. “And this right here, we use this to get indoors.”
Russell said this is the first year Ronald McDonald House has partnered with the Orange PD, but it’s something they hope to continue regularly in the future.
“They can really relate to what our families are going through,” she said.