As Ceres police officers have grown facial hair for the holiday season as part of the Ceres Police Beards for Kids Toy Drive, local businesses have kicked in donations to help spread holiday cheer.
One such donation came from Sherrill McManus Peterson at Sam’s Café.
The Beards for Kids campaign officially got off the ground last month when officers and civilian staff at Ceres Police began growing beards to help bring awareness to underprivileged children in the Ceres community. The campaign goes until Dec. 23 with officers who are growing beards being “fined” $20 apiece to go towards a gift-buying fund.
The Ceres Police Officers Association has identified, with the help of the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, 10 families to assist in its “Shopping with a Cop” program that will take place this Saturday.
Toys will be distributed close to Christmas by Santa Claus aboard the police SWAT vehicle and officers to families who’ve been identified by the city as needy by Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children.
The program began with a discussion between officers in September 2013. Firefighters were selling pink shirts and football players were wearing pink for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and officers the Ceres Police Officers Association wanted their own way to give back to the community.
”No-Shave November” was around the corner to draw awareness to cancer so Officer Jeremy Caron came up with the idea to ask administration to let officers grow beards. Officers Greg Yotsuya and Julio Amador thought it would be shot down but Officer Caron replied, “It won’t hurt to ask.”
Then Deputy Police Chief Michael Borges said “You find a good enough cause and I will consider it.” Christmas was around the corner and the officers suggested a toy drive thus “Beards for Kids” was born.
Officers outlined their plan to grow beards to bring awareness to underprivileged child in the community and conduct a toy drive to collect toys to deliver to them. Sergeants and lieutenants rejected the idea believing it to be an insincere attempt by patrol officers to grow beards. But when then Chief Art de Werk heard of the idea and spoke with Officer Caron, he allowed the program to take place.
Officers collected toys initially at the Police Department lobby but expanded it years later to allow businesses to collect them as well.
Needy families were identified through the Ceres Unified School District, the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children and officers who knew of families in need.
Before distribution, employees of the Ceres Police, family and friends would wrap the gifts at a wrapping party.
Santa Claus would ride in the armored SWAT vehicle that was full of toys which were wrapped the morning of the delivery day. With lights and sirens on, the Lenco and escort patrol cars would pulled up to the house.
At each stop, Santa would load his bag (made by an officer’s mother) and walk to the house escorted by officers.
The appreciation was apparent on the faces of the children and parents.
Once deliveries were made to the families, the delivery officers paraded through the high density housing areas of Ceres with red and blue lights shining and sirens blaring as they entered the various complexes an announcement would be made over the P.A., “Merry Christmas! Children, Santa is here and he has a present for you! Come see Santa!”
Slowly, children would come out of their homes and run towards Santa. Santa and his escort officers would hand out presents.
The officers, some of them a bit hardened over years of working in this field, were glowing from the experience. Citizens, some of which were used to fearing the lights and siren, were smiling. Some even fought back tears as their child received a gift.
The “Beards for Kids” Committee, comprised of Officers Caron, Greg Yotsuya, Jason Coley, Julio Amador and Keith Griebel, realized that “Beards for Kids” could grow in scope. The committee developed the concept of “Shop with a Cop” for five families. Corporate sponsorship was obtained to help fund this.
In the third year, 10 food baskets were added to the program as a component. In just four days, local businesses sponsored five of the 10 families for the “Shop with a Cop” program.
Since that first year the Beard for Kids program has evolved and grown into something much bigger than a simple toy drive.
“The community has come together in the true spirit of the season,” said Officer Brian Peterson, who is heading up the committee this year.
He said the Beards for Kids Committee hopes that the program reaches the point that it becomes a community event simply facilitated by the Ceres Police Department and Ceres Police Officers Association.