Alisa Boswell and Kevin Wilson
Santa sometimes dresses in blue this time of year.
Police in Clovis and Portales recently played Santa to hundreds of children across eastern New Mexico.
The 2011 Operation Santa Cop was a success with Portales Police Department officials saying they gave about 400 children presents on Dec. 17.
“I saw better interaction between kids and officers than when we just deliver,” said Lt. Mark Cage. “It was kind of a carnival atmosphere out there for awhile.”
“It was a very family-oriented atmosphere,” said Executive Assistant Jamie Hacker. “It got the whole family involved, not just the kids.”
Hacker said when she arrived to the opening of the event at 10 a.m., the lobby of the police department was already filled with close to 100 people.
“I had to go around through the detention center door to see anything,” Hacker said. “It was that busy.”
Cage said 50 people were waiting at the door when the department opened and the building and parking lot were filled with at least 100 people at a time for the first two hours then arrived in spurts after.
“We closed at 4 and we had a couple of families come in after that, so we had a great turnout,” Hacker said.
Cage and Hacker said the highlight for the day seemed to be a sleigh ride. Children rode around the department parking lot in a carriage decorated as a sleigh with officers, such as Cage, riding along with them at times.
“Because of the interaction, it was like a party,” Cage said. “We plan to do it that way again next year. We’ll change it up a little next year to make it even better.”
Clovis police also reported a heavy turnout for their gift-giving operation, called “Shop With a Cop.” Over Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, more than 250 kids got a Walmart shopping spree.
“Local kids got to basically spend $100 on whatever they wanted, and they got to do it with an officer,” Community Relations Officer Daron Roach said.
Each morning, the kids arrived at around 6:30 a.m. The cops worked the event along with other law enforcement officers, court baliffs, representatives from Cannon Air Force Base and the Livestock Board.
“We had a lot of help,” Roach said.
The event had $25,400 to work with, Roach said. Part came from citizen donations, and part came from the Mayor’s Christmas Ball proceeds, which funded “Shop With a Cop” and the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico.
“There was such a variety,” Roach said. “Kids were buying stuff for themselves, they were buying stuff for their parents, their brothers, their sisters, their uncles and aunts … It was a really neat time.”
Cage said next year’s Portales event will be held at the Memorial Building and the department will go through a referral process rather than taking phone calls. He said schools and other public services will refer children’s names.
“For the most part, everybody was really happy and really grateful,” Hacker said of the event.
Hacker said at one point, officers handed a 3-year-old boy a fire truck and the boy became extremely excited and his mother informed officers the gift was exactly what he had asked for Christmas.
“It was really sweet,” Hacker said. “It was kind of the epitome of what the program is about.”
Hacker’s 11-year-old daughter, Makenzie, who also helped with the event, said it was fun to see children happy over their presents.
“It was fun being able to give other kids presents who couldn’t afford them, ‘cause now they can have Christmas,” Makenzie Hacker said.
She said seeing children on the sleigh was her favorite part.
Roach said he couldn’t help but notice local programs in comparison to similar efforts from Albuquerque and Amarillo. Each of those helped about 100 children.
“People in Clovis generally care a little bit more,” Roach said, noting that Rooney Moon Broadcasting raised $26,000 in donations for a similar project. “It amazes me how much money can be raised for people in need around here.”