RIALTO – The lights and siren on Rialto police Cpl. Cameron Nelson’s patrol car left 5-year-old Nicholas Mingl doubting it had anything to do with Christmas.
“This ain’t a Santa sleigh,” the Rialto boy said.
But thanks to Rialto police officers who took needy children on a Christmas shopping spree Wednesday, the boy’s outlook on the police and the holidays grew brighter.
Law enforcement and fire agencies around the Inland Empire have been holding gift-giveaways for disadvantaged families the last few weeks. Many police departments participated in Shop With a Cop-style events, using donations to take children to stores for presents.
“These kids would not have a Christmas if it wasn’t for this,” said Karen Huerta, Nicholas’ grandmother.
Rialto police took 14 children to Walmart in Rialto, buying each child $50 in presents and another $40 for their parents or guardians. Families filled out applications and were selected by officers based on need.
“Hopefully it gives them a better outlook on police officers – that we’re not just enforcers,” Nelson said.
The Kiwanis Club, Rialto’s Police Officer Benefit Association and other donors pitched in for the gift money.
Rialto Officer Cheri Schaffer walked the aisles with 6-year-old Julina Castro, who picked a few dolls and some clothes off the shelves. She also used some of her $50 to buy her mother a present.
“It makes you feel good to come out with the kids and see their faces light up,” Schaffer said.
San Bernardino police used a different method to select children for their Shop With a Cop event. Police detectives picked children who were victims in physical abuse cases.
Detectives, along with officers in uniform, accompanied nine children ranging from 5 to about 12-years-old, for a shopping spree. The department received $1,500 in donations from the Walmart Foundation.
“It lets them know that your case is done, but we didn’t forget you,” said police Lt. Paul Williams.
In Redlands, police took 27 children to Target, where they bought $1,800 in presents through police and community donations.
Other agencies may not call their events “Shop With a Cop,” but it’s the same concept.
Fontana police, who call their shopping spree “Heroes and Helpers” took 50 children shopping at Target on Dec. 15. They were selected by school district officials who recognized the children had a need for holiday help.
But it wasn’t just police officers who took children on shopping sprees.
Colton firefighters, along with the Colton Unified School District and Walmart donated money so 50 needy children could each receive $100 Christmas presents.