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Plenty of smiles were going around Friday morning when 42 children from the Children's Crisis Center showed up at the Sheriff's Department headquarters west of Ceres for a heart-warming gift giving event.

Members of the Sheriff's Air Support unit initiated the event after learning that the CCC had no one buying gifts for the children this Christmas. The center provides services to about 150 children from throughout the county each day under crisis situations.

"This is just a wonderful thing," said CCC director Colleen Garcia. "Today these kids get to see how important and positive law enforcement is. Most of them have only had negative contact with police officers. Some were scared of coming into the Sheriff's Department because they thought they were being arrested. Hopefully this will change their perspective for the rest of their lives."

The center has five sites, including one in Turlock and one in Oakdale. Garcia said children are watched in a number of situations, such as homelessness, the incarceration of a parent or a parents' absence during court-mandated drug or psychiatric treatment, counseling or rehabilitation.

Fog grounded plans to show the kids the actual helicopter used to help officers on the ground. They got to see the armoured SWAT team vehicle.

The air unit consists of three pilots and six tech officers, said Lt. Mike Parker.

The officers thought bearing gifts would be a great community outreach. They set out collection barrels at various police facilities and obtained donations of gifts.

"This is going to be an annual event for our association to put on for the kids of our community," said Parker.

Through the use of a Sheriff's helicopter and two fixed-wing aircraft, the Air Support unit routinely helps officers on the group with searches of suspects as well as effecting search and rescues. Lt. Parker said that the unit recently put into use a 100-foot rope that can be dangled to rescue victims from ledges, rivers and other precarious situations. The unit also helps in Stanislaus County.

Tools in the helicopter include a 14 million candlepower search light and day and night infrared cameras which can be broadcast to command centers on the ground. The unit also patrols from the air on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.