Santa Claus usually doesn’t arrive for breakfast in an armored police vehicle.
Yet Mr. Claus happily waved as he stood perched in the hatch of a Santa Ana police tactical unit as he arrived to loud cheers and applause via motor escort to a pancake breakfast sponsored by the department on Saturday, Dec. 3. Santa’s arrival was accompanied by loudspeakers playing a cheery children’s choir singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
The sixth annual Pancakes With Santa event held at police headquarters was estimated to attract between 200 and 500 people, mostly families with young kids excited to visit Santa, says Social Media Coordinator Yesenia Aspeitia.
“It’s incredibly important for the department to come out into the open and do something special for the community,” says Police Chief David Valentin. “We have representatives from all sections of the department here today.”
“Our folks look forward to this event to kick off the holiday season,” Valentin added.
Santa Ana residents Jose and Marina Uribe brought cousins Mateo and Amy, both 8 years old, and said they wanted to expose the children to affirmative role models.
“It’s good for them to see officers in a positive role,” Martina says, “and to know that the police are here to protect us.”
Santa Claus – also known as Senior Correctional Officer John Crippen – was happy to pose for pictures with dozens of children, from babies to preteens, and their parents.
“It’s all about the kids,” Crippen says with a smile, hurrying off to greet families lined up for breakfast, which was served on tables festooned with red and green holiday decorations.
Families could enjoy games, a toy giveaway, photo opportunities, and free ornaments offered by the department’s K9 unit, as well as activities and information from several divisions.
Loaded Café, with locations on West McFadden and East First Street, donated hundreds of full breakfasts for the event, as it has for the previous five years.
“As a brand, we’ve always believed that the community is what makes our business successful,” says CEO and Manager Jose Ruiz. “We’re also offering a reading program that encourages kids to read. If they finish three books, they get a free breakfast.”
Ruiz says his restaurants, also located in Placentia and Long Beach, serve a combination of traditional American breakfasts with Mexican flair, such as churro waffles. Loaded Café has deep roots in the community, as the Ruiz family previously owned the Seventeenth Street IHOP for 34 years before founding their own restaurants.
“We often host families brought in by the reading program who’ve never dined in a restaurant before,” Ruiz observes. “We are pleased to partner with the police department at this event to make meals available to other hungry families.”
Lisa Ayala brought her 2-year-old son, Ethan, to the breakfast and says it was a toss-up whether Santa Claus or pancakes were the most exciting part of the visit.
“I want to create good memories for him,” Ayala says.
Correctional Records Specialist Diana Lazaro also brought her son, Jaxon, and French bulldog puppy, Louie, to see Santa and enjoy breakfast.
“I like to bring him out to community events like this so he can see the department at work,” Lazaro says.
Wearing antlers on his head that sparkled with battery-powered lights and a Hawaiian shirt featuring surfing Santas, Senior Corrections Officer Pedro Jiron says events like Pancakes With Santa offer police department employees the opportunity to give back to the community they serve.
“There’s a new generation of kids coming up, and we want them to see that we are not bad people,” Jiron explains.
Enjoying her work at the event was Police Explorer Diocelina Gonzalez, 19, a Santa Ana College psychology student who wants to become a Santa Ana police officer.
“I would love to be a police officer to give back to the community since I grew up here,” Gonzalez says.
Forensic Specialist Sonia Vasquez was thrilled to share the Crime Scene Investigations van with visiting families.
“It’s great to be at events like this,” Vasquez says, “because the kids get really excited about meeting a real CSI officer.”
Correctional Officer Claudia Smith notes that the department continuously reaches out to the Santa Ana community, including at recent events like toy giveaways, partnerships with senior centers and retirement facilities, and the Special Olympics, to name a few.
“Most often the children say, ‘thank you’ when we are out in the community,” Smith says.
Officers Craig Cofer, Jonathan Alvaredejo, and Matthew Nunez facilitated photos with the department’s mascot, Officer G. Raffe, a giant stuffed giraffe wearing a police uniform.
“We enjoy events like this because they continue to bridge the gap with the community,” Nunez says.
“Just to see the joy in the children’s eyes is rewarding,” Cofer adds.
“It’s important for people to see all sides of law enforcement,” continues Alvaradejo, “and to strengthen our connection with the community.”