This was my ninth year participating in the Anaheim Police Department Cops 4 Kids Christmas toy delivery, and the auditorium at the Anaheim Police Department was full as Chief Raul Quezada addressed the overflow audience.
“This is one of the most exciting events we get to do every year,” Quezada said.
He explained: “This is our opportunity to give back to the community by reaching kids that are probably not going to have the opportunity to have a great Christmas. What makes this event unique is the number of employees’ family members participating today. It just goes to show the support and commitment officers have from their families.
“If this is your first time doing this, you can expect to be overwhelmed by the experience.”
For nine years, the Anaheim Cops 4 Kids program has been delivering gifts and meals at Christmas time for needy families throughout Anaheim. Cops 4 Kids works in collaboration with the various school districts to identify families who might need some help during the holiday season.
Anaheim City schools, as well as schools in the Centralia and Magnolia school districts, all contribute names of families.
As the briefing started, the officers and department employees gathered their families together to load the presents and meals into the multitude of minivans and SUVs.
Lt. Frank Hale was there with his wife Erin, and children Frankie and Emma.
“I’m excited to see the kids’ faces when we give them the presents,” Frankie said.
Lt. James Rodriquez was there with his son.
“We bring our families, especially the younger ones in our families, so they learn what it means to give back to the community,” Rodriguez said.
Dispatcher Rachel Fitzgerald was participating along with her husband, James, and two children, Declan, 8, and Desmond, 6.
“I’ve only been working here three years and this is the first time I’ve had a chance to participate,” Fitzgerald said.
Uniformed officers including Sgt. Daniel Gonzalez accompanied the Fitzgerald family to the first gift delivery location.
Everyone was greeted by 8-year-old Antonio, 11-year-old Sylvia and 3-year-old Nathan. Their mother, Maria, shared how since a recent divorce she had to move back in with her parents. The small apartment had a small plastic tree with just a few gifts under it.
Maria teared up when she saw the officers and the children taking turns opening just a few of the gifts. The remainder of the gifts they would wait until Christmas day to open. After a round of high fives and some pictures, the group moved on to the next location.
At the next apartment, the crew was welcomed by 9-year-old Joshua and 18-month-old Nanigui. The apartment had no tree and no presents. Their mother, Yesny Flores, explained they rent a room from another family.
With a little bit of help from Sgt. Gonzalez, Joshua was allowed to open a few of his gifts. Yesny beamed at all the attention the children were getting from the officers.
The fact that so many families had their Christmases brightened by police officers was great. But even more, the families got to see the police department employees in a different light: They got to see them as fathers and mothers with children of their own.
The memories, for all the families, hopefully will last a lifetime.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.