The line of shiny, new bikes and tables lined with toys and games in the National City Police Department on the morning of Dec. 19 indicated the police force might be up to something: their annual Christmas giveaway event.
Police Sgt. Kenneth Springer said invited families were pre-chosen by local school employees and teachers, along with School Resource Officers who he said keep a lookout for students who show signs their family might be struggling. This year, 25 families were contacted ahead of time and invited to attend the giveaway.
“Our SROs at elementary schools often collaborate with teachers who know which students are on a very limited income or have had a tragedy at home, their family might not have the ability to provide kids with a good Christmas,” Springer said.
Teens represent a challenge, Springer said, as they are past the table of toys but it can be tough to gather gift cards for them to purchase clothing or personal items on their own.
Parents are also challenging, he said, often more concerned for their children than themselves but SBCS representatives are “under cover” at the event, Springer said, ready with social service program information. During conversations, Springer said, they are usually able to determine whether a family could benefit from longer term services throughout the year.
NCPD also ‘adopts’ entire families in need, Springer said, and provides them with an entire holiday meal.
Santa Claus was there, surrounded by presents at a photo booth for children and families, as well as the Chic-Fil-a cow mascot who casually strolled near a tall stack of frozen turkeys waiting for distribution.
“This event provides us an opportunity to bring positivity to the community with trust and respect in a friendly setting. Obviously we are constantly working with law enforcement, which is also positive but this is a way to build friendship and an ongoing relationship with the community,” Springer said.
Some toys and bikes are also tucked aside each year for anyone who slips through the cracks during the holidays. If NCPD learns about a family in need later on, they can access the stored items. Thankfully, Springer said, the police department received “more food, gifts and toys than we need” and there will be plenty for future distribution.
“Our patrol officers who are out in the field sometimes encounter a family in a bad situation with kids,” Springer said— those stored presents can be accessed as needed.
As the city looks to onboarding a homeless outreach specialist, Springer said that person will likely work directly with patrol officers and also determine if there are children in need, year-round.