Providing free Thanksgiving meals to families in need has become as much of an annual tradition for the Tustin Police Department as stuffing and mashed potatoes.
Members of the department were at it again this year, setting up shop in the parking lot of the Tustin Family & Youth Center the day before Thanksgiving, handing out holiday meals to more than 100 families.
The process has become so efficient over the years that the police and police services officers were able to give out every meal in about 30 minutes.
“It’s become a staple in the community where people have kind of come to depend on us, and we’ve all come to depend on this opportunity to give back,” said Sgt. Jeff Taylor of the Tustin Police Department Criminal Investigation Unit. Taylor has been organizing the meal giveaway for 12 years. “I’m just thankful that we are in a position to be able to do this and thankful that our community is what it is in their support for us. Their support has never wavered and our service has never wavered.”
Initially, Taylor and others from the department organized a flag football tournament involving Tustin Police Department and other law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
The participating agencies were asked to make a donation that would be used to purchase Thanksgiving meals to give to families most in need.
Tustin Police Department formed a partnership with The Honey Baked Ham Company in Tustin to provide the meals and reached out to the Tustin Family & Youth Center to identify families who needed the most help.
Seniors and large families are usually the most vulnerable, said Barbara Guerrero, recreation coordinator for the Tustin Family & Youth Center.
“The families look forward to this every year,” Guerrero said. “Today we had several that were crying. We do appreciate the officers a lot. It takes a lot from them to do this and organize and get the funds to be able to purchase the meals.”
The multi-agency flag football tournament has since stopped, but two six-person teams from the Tustin Police Department still compete in a football game annually and did so a few hours after they handed out the Thanksgiving meals.
Donations come from the Tustin Police Officers Association, the Tustin Police Support Services Association and from individual donors within the department, Taylor said.
“I love being out with the community, helping people, and making some kind of difference, especially during the pandemic,” said Police Services Officer Zhanna Ismailova, who helps organize the event.
Other holiday outreach events organized by the Tustin Police Department in the coming weeks include Santa’s Sleigh, when Santa and his helpers spread cheer through every neighborhood in town over several nights; and Santa Cop, when the Tustin Police Department’s elves provide presents to children in the community.
Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg said he is proud of the department’s long history of supporting the community through various events.
“This stuff has been going on before I got here and will continue to go on as long as I’m here and I’m sure with the next chief as well,” Greenberg said. “This seems like a very small token of how we feel about the community.”