Blanca Ortiz and her family have arrived at the Tustin Family and Youth Center annually for the past 10 years in what has become a tradition not only for the Ortiz family, but for the Tustin Police Department: providing Thanksgiving meals to local residents.
Ortiz and her two children, Blanca and Lukas, were among 100 families who lined up on a brisk, clear morning before Thanksgiving to receive a holiday meal and share a few moments of thanks and giving.
Ortiz looks forward to the event each year and calls it an honor to receive the large Honey Baked turkey breast that she says will help feed her entire family on Thanksgiving day.
“I appreciate it,” she said. “It makes me feel happy that my family won’t have to do without.”
Sgt. Jeff Taylor has been overseeing the event for all of its 13 years and has it down to a science. With blink-and-you-missed-it efficiency, the department dispensed the meals in less than a half hour and soon after officers and personnel were taking time to chat with the families.
“We see the same faces,” Taylor said. “They made us a part of their tradition.”
For Deputy Chief Bob Wright, this was his last year at the event ahead of retirement, and he said it remains immensely rewarding.
“This is one of the things I am most proud of,” Wright said. “It gives smiles to those in need. That’s what makes it special.”
As part of its mission, the Tustin Police Department stresses community interaction and collaboration and that is particularly evident in the holiday season.
“We’re a service-oriented department,” Taylor said.
As happens every year, about 100 families lined up in the parking lot outside the Family and Youth Center to share in the holiday event.
“We work all kinds of events and this is probably one of the best,” Chief Stu Greenberg said.
Barbara Guerrero, recreational coordinator at the center, helped register and choose the 100 families and seniors in attendance.
“We’ve been doing this for 13 years and it’s really heart warming and rewarding,” she said. “Every year (the families) get to talk to the police and make friends. We really enjoy working with the Tustin Police Department.”
Taylor took the reins of the event when it was launched.
“This was something that was put on my heart years ago,” he said.
The giveaway grew from a flag football tournament involving Tustin police and other law enforcement agencies from Orange County. As part of that, Tustin asked for donations for local families, and a tradition began. The tournament has since become an in-house event played in the afternoon after the turkey giveaway.
Since the first event, the Tustin Police Department has been able to donate the meals, including during the pandemic when packaged meals were set out on chairs for families to pick up.
The Honey Baked Ham Company partners in the event, and the Tustin Police Foundation, the Tustin Police Officers Association and the Tustin Police Support Services Association all donated.
This year, Guerrero said the need has been acute with the recent economic woes, inflation and cost of living. But once again, she said, the department came forward to meet the need.