A warm meal enjoyed with family and dear friends.
Children playing games and opening presents.
Holiday tunes echoing in the background.
The scene is repeated in homes around the country this time of year — and also at the Tustin Community Center, where children and their families might not have gifts to open or a meal to share with loved ones, if it wasn’t for Santa Cop.
Organized by the Tustin Police Department for the 29th consecutive year, Santa Cop treats specially selected kids and their families to an evening of holiday-themed activities highlighted by a visit from Santa Claus and a chance to take a selfie with the Jolly Old Elf.
The kids received gifts – some even won bicycles in a raffle – and a traditional Christmas dinner, played games, and had their faces painted.
“To me, this is a celebration of our relationship with the community,” Acting Chief Jeff Blair said. “For us, this is a chance (for the community) to see the police in a positive light in a non-threatening setting.”
The invited families are referred by schools, area churches, the Tustin Family and Youth Center. and by the officers themselves.
Tustin resident Maria Jennifer Sison was invited this year, along with her two adopted sons who are 4 and 6 years old.
“I’m lucky to be chosen,” Sison said. “It’s a good thing that the police station is doing this. They make a lot of children happy. It shows that the police are concerned about the community.”
Donations from City of Tustin employees, Tustin Police Department employees, the Tustin Lions Club, the Tustin Community Foundation, and Smart & Final make the event possible.
Police recruits from the Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West College dished out food in a buffet line and carried bags of presents to cars for the families.
“One of the parts of being a police officer is being able to interact with the community,” recruit Kimberly Aggabao, 35, of Anaheim said. “This is exactly what I envisioned as being part of a police officer’s job … being able to work with families and kids and having a partnership with the community.”
The first-ever Santa Cop included 13 families who were served punch and cookies, and that was pretty much it, said Community Services Officer Adriana Tokar, who’s been organizing the event for 25 years.
“Some of these kids would have little or no Christmas at all, so this brings a smile to their face and it makes us happy and it helps the families out too,” Tokar said. “If this program would have been in place when I was young, then I would have been part of this program.”
Sofia Meza, who came to the event along with her 7- and 8-year-old daughters, was pleased to see her local police officers in a non-traditional setting.
“I really love it,” Meza said. “It wasn’t just giving out presents. I kind of like that they are showing themselves and that they are not just about enforcement. They are people too.”
Ixel Mendoza, 7, talks to Santa Claus at the Tustin Community Center.
Photo by Stephen Carr/Behind the Badge