Marie Mikols couldn’t believe her good fortune when she looked through the goody bag and presents she received from the Santa Ana Police Department and Santa Claus at a Christmas dinner and gift delivery at the Saint Francis Home.
“Santa gave me exactly what I wanted,” she said gleefully. “How did he know?”
Mikols was one of about 25 elderly residents and Franciscan Sisters who were treated to a hot Christmas meal of ham, turkey, and fixings at an annual event at the assisted living home and convent.
St. Francis Home is a nonprofit home run for the last 78 years by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Commander Sandy Gatt, who earlier this year became the first sworn female commander of Santa Ana Police Department’s Jail Operations Bureau, started the dinner-gift event in 2006. The department adopted Saint Francis after Gatt met with Sister Elia Caro, the administrator and superior at the home.
“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the elderly,” Gatt said. “The department has always participated in toy drives. I thought it was important to have (the elderly) be a part of the celebration.”
The event was canceled in 2019 and 2020 due to the pandemic and although gifts were delivered the meal couldn’t be shared.
Gatt said Forensic Supervisor Jessica Durham asked to bring back the dinner and organized this year’s event, although Durham was unable to attend.
Kryss Bryant, who works alongside Durham and helped organize this year’s event, also saw the importance of reaching out to seniors.
“I think they get forgotten,” she said, noting that many families no longer have multiple generations living together. “If we can make them a little happier, I think that’s great.”
In past years, upwards of 70 residents and nuns lived at the home and convent. However, during the pandemic many residents moved to medical care facilities or home with their families.
About 10 police officers and non-sworn personnel, along with several volunteers, showed up and were soon serving steaming plates loaded with food to the home’s residents and nuns who live in an adjacent convent.
“We enjoy it so much,” said Sister Virginia Martinez, who has been with Saint Francis for 50 years after moving to the U.S. from Mexico. “I enjoy every minute of it.”
Each resident was ‘adopted’ by a member of the Santa Ana Police Department. The residents each turned in a list of three requested gifts and received at least one of them. In addition, the residents, along with the nuns, all received goody bags with socks, lotion, lip balm, puzzle books, toiletries, and blankets.
Jaxon Auzanne, 11, and his brother Cooper, 6, attended the event with their mother, Elizabeth, and helped deliver food and drinks to the residents.
“I think it’s very nice,” Jaxon said. “I like that we’re helping people who don’t have families.”
This was the first time the family had visited the home and Elizabeth said she is hoping to instill the idea of service in her boys.
“It’s important,” she said of helping the elderly who often are forgotten during the holidays. “Christmas time is not just about receiving presents.”
After the meal, Santa Claus visited with the residents while “elves” delivered gifts.
“What did we do to deserve this?” Mikols asked no one in particular.
“It’s beautiful the way they presented everything,” she said.
Ruth Armstrong, another resident, was also overcome by the outpouring of spirit.
“Oh my, it’s wonderful. My goodness,” she said. “It was a total, wonderful surprise. I can’t believe all they brought.”
After leaning back for a moment to take it all in she said, “I have goosebumps.”