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Toy collection by bearded police exceeds goal
Hundreds of Ceres children benefit in gift drive
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Members of Jobs Daughters Bethel #171 in Ceres presented gifts of toys to the Ceres Police Beards for Kids toy drive. Gathered for the presentation on Thursday were: (left to right), Officer Jason Coley, Lillian Hailey, Destiny Borges, Officer Greg Yotsuya, Lt. Brent Smith (in back), Kayde Sours, Officer Jeremy Caron and Sgt. Rick Collins. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

An effort by Ceres police to collect Christmas toys for 46 underprivileged children living in 14 impoverished families has exceeded its goal.

There was so much gift giving to the Ceres Police Beards for Kids toy drive that there was enough toys for the 100 extra children living in the neighborhoods of the target families. So many gifts were donated that Ceres Police also gave "a good chunk" to the Family Justice Center in Modesto.

Police collected unwrapped new toys for boys and girls aged from infants to 18 at several locations, including the Ceres Police Department lobby, City Hall, the Ceres Community Center, and at Dollar General. Traffic Officer Jason Coley pitched the idea to Ceres police command staff on behalf of the patrol officers who encounter impoverished children every day. The goal, he said, was to "bring joy to these kids and families who might otherwise not have the opportunity to have a Merry Christmas."

Coley and his wife sorted through the gifts the weekend of Dec. 14-15 and city employees wrapped the gifts on Saturday. Gifts were distributed on Sunday by officers and Santa Claus aboard the Ceres Police SWAT armored vehicle to families who were identified by the city as in financial need.

"The community has done so much," said Coley. "We're so grateful for what they've done. Every day we get somebody new come in here and we're just surprised at the help we're getting."

"We're a little overwhelmed by it," echoed Officer Greg Yotsutya.

Officers were also a little overwhelmed when one family receiving gifts made tree ornaments for the officers.
"All of the families were very happy," said Coley.
Officers pledged to grow beards starting the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas as a way of drawing awareness to the plight of poor families in Ceres. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Annual Community Survey, 21.1 percent of all Ceres households live at or below the poverty line. The officers also asked community residents and businesses to donate toys to the Ceres Police Beards for Kids toy drive that kicked off Thanksgiving and went to Dec. 23.

Ceres police partnered with the City of Ceres Recreation Division and Ceres Employee Activities Committee to collect donated toys at various locations in the community. They also challenged local businesses to pledge donations for each officer donning a beard. The Ceres Walmart donated three toys per bearded officer.
Between 35 and 40 officers grew beards since Black Friday. The officer who grew the best beard will be receiving a gift certificate. John King, Chris Perry and Pat Crane were said to have outstanding beards but Josh Klinge took the award.

On Thursday members of Job's Daughters Bethel #171 dropped by to deliver $150 in gifts purchased by the girls at Target.

The effort has been a positive move in what is typically negative public interaction with police officers said Coley. Yotsuya said that when people looked at his scruffy beard it was an opportunity to explain about the toy collection effort.

"I've actually seen some of the people I've contacted out taking reports from come down here and drop toys off so it's had the desired effect of bringing awareness to our drive," said Yotsuya.

Sgt. Rick Collins said talking to the needy families has "made us all realize how fortunate we really are."

Officer Jeremy Caron noted that the gift wish lists from the poor have been modest. One nine-year-old child only asked for a coloring books.

Coley said his department will be conducting the same effort for Christmas 2014.