Convoy Shows Giving Spirit

Citrus Heights, CA (MPG)  |  By Elise Spleiss
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Nine year old Julian looks on with delight as Sgt.Wes Herman of the CHPD points out features on his police cruiser during the annual police Holiday Toy Drop-off on December 20. --Photo by Elise Spleiss

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A police convoy of over a dozen Citrus Heights Police Department marked and unmarked vehicles, lights flashing and sirens wailing, made their way through the streets of Citrus Heights to five very special neighborhoods on the afternoon of December 20, 2016.

Residents living along parts of Centurion Circle, Terrell Drive, Stanford Avenue, and Villa Oak Drive were understandably uneasy at first, but then pleasantly surprised as the occupants of the vehicles emerged bearing gifts and much more for one special family at each address.

Nearly two dozen police officers, along with police volunteers, Mayor Jeff Slowey and other city council members, Boy Scouts of troop 635, and of course, Santa Claus executed one “flash gift and toy drop” in each of the four neighborhoods.

The four families chosen to receive the special delivery of toys, food, clothes and other necessities were selected from community referrals to the city’s Holiday Referral Program overseen by the police department. Each family had experienced unusual hardship in 2016 placing them in extreme financial or other difficult situation. Items for these and 30 other needy families helped this year by the program, were donated by the police department, non-profit service organizations, churches, schools, private businesses and individuals.

At the first stop, Elizabeth, whose son was celebrating his 5th birthday, was overwhelmed when Santa, accompanied by half a dozen officers ascended to their second-floor apartment bearing a shiny green bike, toys, games, food and many other items for the family. The officers were then joined by more police personnel and their own children of all ages in singing “Happy Birthday” to her son. Elizabeth, who has no family and no parents to help her thanked everybody and vowed to “pay it forward”

At another address, nine-year-old Julian was also greeted by Santa who handed him a bright red present. Julian’s mother passed away after Halloween following heart surgery. Julian said, “I loved my mom, and I’m very thankful for everyone that came he said.” His father, Tony Bernardino, said, “Julian is doing very well with everything considering the situation.” But the highlight of Julian’s day was when Sgt. Wes Herman let him sit in and inspect the interior of his police cruiser and turn on the lights and siren.

Finally, no Citrus Heights Holiday Toy Drop-off would be complete without a stop on Sayonara Drive. Previously the ‘sore spot’ of Citrus Heights, Sayonara is now a much safer place for families to live. As the caravan pulled up to the Sayonara Community Center it took only seconds for dozens of children to appear and descend upon and eagerly surround the officers and volunteers handing out the rest of the over 300 stuffed animals donated this year.

This was Police Chief Ron Lawrence’s first Holiday Toy Drop-off. At the end of the day he spoke of how impressed he is with all the hard work of his officers. He commented that “today we make magic and create special moments these kids will remember the rest of their lives… It’s a gift for us as much as it is for them.”