The Santa Ana Police Department made sure Christmas would be merry for a group of kids who could use some extra cheer during the holidays.
On Dec. 14, police officers, community service officers, and other department personnel took 21 local youngsters on a $100 shopping spree at Walmart in Santa Ana on Dec. 14 for the annual Shop-With-A-Cop event.
The chosen kids were impacted by crime or had suffered a hardship over the past year, Social Media Coordinator Yessenia Aspeitia said.
In many cases, the kids were recommended by officers in the field who had contact with them on a call, Aspeitia said.
“These kids specifically have touched the people who have brought them up to be considered by this program,” she said. “Now they want to give them a little bit of joy during Christmas time.”
“We are bringing it back to our community,” she said. “We are giving back in every way we can.”
Motor Officer Bryan Thaete commandeered a shopping cart alongside a 7-year-old boy named Jesse, who picked out Hot Wheels and other toy cars, including a police car.
“I think it’s a very humbling experience to come here and give back to the kids who are less fortunate,” said Thaete, who has participated in Shop-With-A-Cop in the past with another agency before lateralling to Santa Ana Police Department. “It’s a good experience for us, to remember why we do the job.”
Police Services Officer Nancy Lopez accompanied an 8-year-old girl who picked out Barbie accessories and a scooter, “which she was very excited about,” said Lopez, who was born and raised in Santa Ana. “It is very impactful, something that the kids remember for the rest of their lives.”
Each year, members of the department donate to the Shop-With-A-Cop campaign, which is organized by Community Services officers.
“This is a labor of love that they put together because along with Walmart, not only are they coming in with these gift cards, they get a picture with Santa and a stocking,” Aspeitia said.
The officers volunteer their time and often reach into their own pockets to make sure the child gets everything on their wish list.
As a Santa Ana Police records manager, Rita Ramirez, has volunteered with Shop-With-A-Cop for five years and also volunteered for years with other agencies before that.
“We are so blessed,” Ramirez said. “We make good money. We have good jobs. There is a community that isn’t as blessed. So, I feel that if I can give back in that way, and make them happy for one day, then I’m happy to participate in this.”
Ramirez accompanied a 7-year old girl, who selected Barbie dolls and games she could use to play with her sister.
“She knew what she wanted,” Ramirez said. “She went straight to the toy aisle. She is fast.”
Most of the young shoppers selected gifts not only for themselves but for family members as well.
Maggie Busch, a counselor at Taft Elementary School and a former Santa Ana Police Department employee, came with an 11-year-old boy who had recently moved to the U.S. from his native Argentina and was having some challenges adjusting.
Busch was participating in Shop-With-A-Cop for the first time.
“I think that it is great that the police officers are out here with the kids for the community,” she said.
Julie Melcher, a board member for West End COP (Community Oriented Policing), a nonprofit that assists the police in a variety of areas, was wrapping the presents chosen by the children.
“I think it’s a wonderful community action,” Melcher said. “It’s for the kids and that is really important. It is our community and we have to support our kids.”