On Monday I participated with Anaheim Cops 4 Kids in delivering gifts for needy families in the Anaheim area. The program is in its seventh year and only seems to get better each holiday season.
Uniformed police officers, their families, support staff and volunteers deliver gifts and food to needy families. The families are selected in collaboration with the school districts and specifically selected because of a known need.
Some of the homes we visited Monday had multiple families living under the same roof. The living rooms in some homes doubled as bedrooms.
Another family was raising not only their own children but had taken in the children of another family member who was unable to care for them. In yet another home, the father had been without work for a while.
It was heartwarming to see the children’s faces light up as a uniformed police officer knocked on the door bearing gifts. The family eagerly invited everyone in, and gifts were provided for each child in the home. Every gift was tagged with that child’s name and selected based upon their age.
All of the families were deeply appreciative. Officers and volunteers posed for pictures with the kids, visited with the families and shared polite conversation.
I enjoyed watching as Lt. Tim Miller carried on conversations with parents in surprisingly good Spanish. There was evident deep appreciation as hugs were shared by all before we moved on to the next family.
As I watched this occur over and over again, it was easy to see there is something different when Santa arrives wearing a blue uniform and a badge.
It’s probably one of the few opportunities these children and their families will get to see officers as people. I’d say that’s even more true when they meet the spouses and children of the officers.
I am sure these families now understand that it’s not just a nameless person in a uniform but a real human being who cares — a person who has taken the time to reach out and provide some joy during difficult times.
Near the end of the day, Officer Jake Gallacher drove a decorated jail bus into the Mayfair Street neighborhood to distribute leftover toys to neighborhood children. The police department has made a special effort to reach out to children in this neighborhood since an officer-involved shooting in March during which Anaheim PD K9 Bruno was shot and a suspect killed.
What seemed like hundreds of children gathered around as uniformed officers, explorer scouts and police cadets distributed gifts. Ironically, directly across the street, a makeshift memorial stood that was erected in memory of the gang member who was killed after he opened fire on police officers searching the area.
I wonder what the children hear about the police day in and day out from the gang members who reside in the area?
I’m fairly certain it’s nothing good.
At least on Monday, the men in women in uniform all were Santa Claus.
At least on this day, they definitely were the good guys and the entire neighborhood was happy to see them.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org