Baby dolls, Tonka trunks, Nerf guns and basketballs were just a few of the toys scattered around the a back room of the Portales Police Department Tuesday afternoon, as various department employees took shifts packing boxes of toys for families in need.
The annual tradition is the Portales Police Department’s Operation Santa Cop, which is in its 17th year.
Lonnie Berry, deputy chief of the police department, said department employees start collecting donations and holding toy drives the week before Thanksgiving and began delivering the toys last Thursday. He said they will continue taking the names of families in need, and donations to help them, through Christmas Eve and will continue deliveries through Christmas day.
They raised funds in November with two toy drives at the Portales Walmart, and The Lion’s Club donated half the funds from their Pancake Breakfast at the end of October.
“This is a village in action,” said Berry, who said the donations seem to double every year. “If I were to run out of toys and money, I know I would have more by the end of the day.”
Berry said the local community shows a large amount of support for the project each year and generous donations are made by several local groups, organizations and individuals. Berry said he gets approached while he’s shopping for the project, and people give him cash donations on the spot.
Berry said $4,000 in cash and hundreds of toy donations have been given this year, allowing the department to give Christmas to more than 1,000 children rather than last year’s number of 890 children. He said they have hopes of totaling 1,200 children for this year by the time the program ends this weekend.
Berry said family members of police department employees and Portales High School and Junior High School students come to help sort toys and tag the boxes for individual families. Berry said he enjoys seeing children involved in the activity.
“I think we need to teach our kids to give back to the community,” Berry said. “One of the things that impresses me most is how much department members have gotten their families involved.”
Berry said the reactions of the families they give to is what makes the program most rewarding. He said he once took a new bicycle to a 15 year-old-girl and she and her mother both began to cry when they saw it.
Vyanca Vega, the school resource officer for the department, said she enjoys making deliveries to families.
“It’s nice to see people smile,” said Vega. “Kids are excited to get toys and parents are grateful.”
Nora Navarrete, records clerk for the department, said she organizes the names and ages of the various children and prints out the lists of families in need, making name tags to place on the toys.
“It’s really fun,” said Navarrete. “Especially when we have some kids come down and help sort the toys. They get really excited.”
Berry said he would rate the success of Operation Santa Cop as being higher each year.
“Different people come in and help us sort toys,” said Berry. “It’s good for us to give as a community.”