City to kick off holiday with toy drive, tree lighting

Argen Duncan

You may not hear sleigh bells ring, but Christmas is on its way to Portales.

The annual Operation: Santa Cop toy drive and distribution is under way, and the Lighting of the Mayor’s Blessing Tree is set for Monday.

This year, said Mayor Sharon King, the city is focusing on the Portales Police Department’s Operation: Santa Cop toy drive instead of having the Mayor’s Christmas Tree, which also provided children with gifts. Also, at the lighting of the tree, people of any faith can write blessings for whomever they chose on paper ornaments for the tree.

“I think just the way life is right now with us still in the recession and troops overseas, and so many frauds and scandals have hit the news, I just thought we all needed to say an extra blessing,” King said.

She said she chose to consolidate the toy drives because Operation: Santa Cop is a wonderful program and reaches more children of a wider age range. She also thought having both programs duplicated efforts.

During the lighting of the tree, city Community Affairs Coordinator Nicole Thornton said, children can decorate ornaments, participate in a coloring contest and get goodie bags from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Portales High School choir students are to perform as well.

Thornton said ornaments made by children in the Portales Recreation Center’s after-school program would grace the Christmas tree, which will be moved to City Hall after the lighting.

The evening also includes a toy drive for Operation: Santa Cop. The program is accepting new, unwrapped gifts for youth ages birth through 18, or monetary donations.

Portales Police Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry said department personnel expect to serve more than 1,000 children around Roosevelt County this year.

“We just want to make sure every kid in Portales gets some kind of present,” Berry said.

Collection boxes are to be available around town starting Wednesday afternoon.

“We actually will collect toys and things like that until the very last bit,” he said, adding that officers have called him on Christmas Day when they happened across a family without presents.

Berry said the hardest age group to get gifts for is 16- to 18-year-olds. Department staff often buy teenagers watches, jewelry, video games, sports equipment and, for girls, bath items.

Operation: Santa Cop is unique, Berry said, because officers help deliver gifts on their own time and involve their families to teach their children how to make the community a better place.

About six years ago, Berry said, a man came to the department with children who had just received presents to say thank you.

“That kind of stuff really makes the holiday worth it,” he said.

Since then, the family has gained a stronger financial status and helped with the toy drive for the past few years.