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CHP brings Christmas to kids at receiving home

December 26, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

With sirens blaring, the California Highway Patrol escorted Santa Claus — and a lot of presents — to the Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home on Christmas Eve.

As the old jolly guy in the red suit stepped out of a patrol car, he was greeted by smiling children — except for one young boy, who could not help but cry and reach out for St. Nick to get a hug.

Santa, whose real identity is Highway Patrol Officer Jason Burke, hugged the boy and offered kind words to let him know Christmas had arrived.

As Burke spoke with the child, several other officers carried loads of presents for the youths staying in the receiving home just south of El Centro.

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Highway Patrol officials said this is their way of trying to provide a Christmas to kids who, without the help of the Imperial Valley community, might miss out on the holiday.

Officials at the center said that is not going to happen, adding thanks to the Highway Patrol and all the other agencies that donated gifts and funds, the kids will have a Christmas.

There will be more presents to open on Christmas morning, and the kids will have a chance to go out for breakfast and maybe even dinner.

Some kids will have a chance to spend Christmas day with foster families that open their homes to the kids for the day.

Also, the youths will be taken Thursday to Sea World and to Chuck E. Cheese's in San Diego.

"The heart of the community is what gives these kids a Christmas," said Gary Tackett, deputy chief of the county Probation Department.

As of Monday, 18 youths ranging in age from 4 to 17 were staying in the home, which is for young people who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Tackett said the "easiest" way to explain how the kids in the home feel is to remember how it felt to be in a mall as a child and lose sight of your parents. Only, he said, that feeling is magnified 10 times for the kids in the home.

However, on Christmas Eve the kids for the most part did not seem sad. Like all children, they appeared excited about the holiday and their eyes brightened when they saw the presents.

At first officials were going to wait and have the kids open the presents this morning. Then, much to the children's delight, they were allowed to open the Highway Patrol presents with Santa watching.

One 13-year-old girl, who has been in the home for about a month, said, "The kids were crying because they miss their moms; then Santa Claus comes and they get happy."

A 15-year-old boy, who also has been in the home for about a month, said he appreciates the Highway Patrol and other agencies bringing presents.

"It shows they really care about us," the boy said.

A 9-year-old boy, who could not help but give Santa a hug and ask him to come back Christmas day, said he was happy to get a present.

He also said he was happy to see the Highway Patrol.

"I like the policemen," the boy said.

As for the boy who was crying when Santa arrived, he at first continued to cry as St. Nick pulled out a big, brightly wrapped gift and handed it to the boy.

At first the boy said he didn't want it, but then he took the present and opened it. It was an interactive book. The boy, streaks of tears still clear on his face, allowed a staff member from the home to read to him.

Burke said it makes him feel good to dress as Santa and try to give some kids a good Christmas.

"It just makes me feel sad when kids are displaced," Burke said.

Tackett said while there were 18 youths in the home Monday, there is always a chance there will be more Christmas Day.

He added there is a possibility some of the kids will move out of the home by today; but there will always be kids coming in to replace them.

Tackett said he hopes the community continues to think about the kids in the home and continues to provide help to make sure their needs can be met.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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