Santa Claus has really upgraded his cavalry. During the LAPD Olympic Division’s holiday celebration last week, ol’ Saint Nick dropped in via a three-wheeled segway, complete with a police helicopter escort.
His presence had been requested for the division’s inaugural holiday shoe giveaway — Operation Shoes from Santa — an effort that put 600 new pairs of shoes on the feet of children in low-income families.
While participants were treated to shoes and Santa, they were also able to build their own toolboxes, throw snowballs, enjoy holiday music and make snow angels alongside the division’s officers and staff.
Captain Tina Nieto said the event started with two senior lead officers talking about how the division could help the community during the holidays. She said it was of great benefit for all involved.
“It’s extremely meaningful, not only for the community, but really for the officers,” Nieto said, adding that the division will hold the event again next year. “We serve under-privileged families in the city of Los Angeles, and here in Olympic Division, we have a lot of those families. So, from two officers talking to each other in a patrol car, you have this great event that’s going to serve 600 children this evening to provide them new shoes from Santa. …It’s kind of awesome, huh?”
She said the division received an “overwhelming” response from community partners looking to assist, such as Vlado Shoes, Home Depot, Warehoues Shoe Sales, La Brea Bakery, Chinese Laundry, Liliana’s Tamales and S&J Tow, among others.
“It was an idea that caught on fire,” Nieto said. “The outreach part — that was the easy part. People just wanted to help out.”
Senior lead officer James Chong was among the officers to organize the event, along with senior lead officers Eric Mollinedo and Heidi Stoecklein. He said that with the economy the way it is, events like the holiday celebration are critical.
Chong said the officers reached out to more than 20 schools in Olympic Division, and worked with principals to identify low-income students who were in need of new shoes for school.
“We just feel really good about the whole thing,” he said. “We have so many kids in dire need.”
Jill Kim, of Vlado Shoes, said the company was pleased to partner with the division to give new shoes to area children.
“I’m grateful that I can be a part of this,” Kim said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. I just love to see smiles on the little kids.”
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was on hand. He said the division is filled with officers who care deeply about the people they serve.
“I’m so proud of Olympic Division,” Beck said. “They’re one of our very newest divisions, but they have become — rapidly — one of our most community-oriented divisions. They always look for ways to reach out to the community and make things better. This is such a great example of that. …It’s a terrific bunch of men and women. They have a real bond with the community, and that’s evidenced by what they’re doing here. They spend a lot of time, a lot of energy — they used a lot of contacts to make this happen. It’s just very heart-warming.”
The impact of the event was not lost of the hordes of families in attendance, with some parents calling the celebration “excelente.”
“This is a very special thing for the kids — very nice for LAPD,” Fortino Hernandez said, adding that his children enjoyed seeing Santa and playing in the snow. “Oh yes, of course they did.
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