The Santa Cop program has kicked off at the Portales Police Department as toys begin to flood into the department for children, who would otherwise, have no Christmas gifts.
Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry said 170 names have been submitted so far for the program and he expects there to be close to 1,500 this year, 300 more than last year.
“It started in 1998 and we gave 200 kids Christmas and it’s steadily built ever since,” Berry said. “Last year, we added more than 200 kids.”
Berry said the program has a new twist this year with the department holding a give-away day on Dec. 17 when children entered in the program can come to the PD and pick out their presents while enjoying cookies, punch and music with officers and other personnel.
“We just try to keep things fresh and innovative,” Berry said. “We thought we’d try it and see how it works. We’re really excited about it.”
Berry said children who cannot attend the event will have their toys delivered to them. He said children from the entire county can qualify for the program if their families cannot afford to pay for Christmas.
“We deliver 25 to 30 miles for families,” he said.
Berry, who started the program, said the department begins receiving calls with name submissions as early as October, however most names and donations will be received in the next week, especially with their Wal-Mart toy drive approaching Saturday.
“Nora is my shopping buddy,” Berry said of department receptionist Nora Navarrete. “When you get to teenagers, it’s tougher to buy, so she helps me.”
Berry has done a variety of work with children.
“I really like kids and normally, they take really well to me,” Berry said. “It’s a big family situation when we do Santa Cop. My grandkids are usually involved and Nora’s sons and other department personnel’s kids.”
Navarrete’s 8-year-old son, Robert Encinias, has helped with the program the last three years.
“I pick up the presents and what we do is organize them for family and friends who don’t have presents,” Encinias said. “I think it’s really sad other kids don’t get presents and I do, so I like helping with it.”
Encinias said he loves Christmas and Santa Cop is one of his favorite things to participate in each year.
He said he has fun separating presents for families and enjoys the fact he is helping other children.
“It’s important ’cause some kids don’t get presents every year and they should, Encinias said. “They’ll play with it every day and be really happy.”
Berry said making children happy is the essence of the Santa Cop program and seeing the expression on children’s faces is what makes it worthwhile.
“The main thing is we don’t want to imagine any kid empty handed on Christmas morning,” Berry said. “We really encourage people who donate to go on at least one delivery because that’s the rewarding part.”