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Kids ‘N’ Badges Makes Holidays Special for 30 Calexico Youths
Santa Claus delights children and adults alike on Dec. 18 at the annual Kids ‘N’ Badges event at the Calexico Walmart. Calexico police officers and firefighters joined other organizations in treating the children to a holiday breakfast and shopping spree. | Corissa Ibarra photo

Kids ‘N’ Badges Makes Holidays Special for 30 Calexico Youths

CALEXICO — For 30 of Calexico’s most underprivileged children, the holidays were made a little brighter when the group was treated to breakfast, a visit from Santa Claus and a shopping spree with a uniformed buddy.

It all happened Dec. 18 during the annual Kid ‘N’ Badges event put on by the city’s Police Department.

Brought from a free breakfast at Denny’s to the parking lot south of the Walmart Supercenter via a parade of police patrol cars, the youths looked on in awe and amazement when Santa, looking suspiciously like retired local law enforcement officer Chuck Cloud, was gently delivered outside the big-box store by a single “reindeer,” one of REACH air ambulance’s famously red helicopters.

‘First Time’ for Kids

The kids were paired with either a Calexico police officer or firefighter, and taken on a $100 shopping spree inside Walmart. There they had the opportunity to pick out any toys they wanted just in time for Christmas for what has become a tradition the past 16 years, event organizer and Calexico patrol Sgt. Victor Legaspi said.

“A lot of this is a first time for these kids,” said Legaspi, who has planned the annual event for about the last decade. “It’s the first time they’ve eaten at Denny’s, the first time they’ve ridden in a patrol car. These are kids whose parents don’t have enough to get them things this time of year.”

The children, ages 5 to 12, were hand-picked by Hortencia Amendariz, an administrator at the Calexico Unified School District.

Roaming the Walmart toy aisles, the boys appeared to head straight for the video games, action figures and toy vehicles, while the girls made a bee-line to the Barbie figures and other dolls.

Wearing a pink, puffy jacket and white beanie on her head, 9-year-old Alessandra, a fourth-grader, clutched a brightly-packaged, golden-haired classic.

“I picked out a new Barbie that I’m really excited to play with,” Alessandra said shyly but excitedly explained, “I’m not sure what else to get.”

The aisles were filled with choices, and that was part of the job of the accompanying cops and firefighters–to guide the children through the maze of plastic parts and shiny stuff.

Cops Get Smiles Too

Veteran Calexico police Officer Anthony Torres has become an old pro at helping the youths make their choices.

“I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, and I love seeing the kids be able to get toys that they aren’t able to afford,” Torres said. “Every year is a different experience, but nothing beats seeing the kids happy.”

Legaspi added it’s equally rewarding to see the smiles on the faces of the parents who come along.

“The parents, they thank you, saying we’re in their prayers for making their children’s Christmas,” he said.

Legaspi said all the shopping cops and firefighters volunteered their time to accompany the children; no one was on duty who helped in that capacity. In thanking those officers and firefighters, he added that while the children are capped at $100 in toys, many of their shopping carts ring up much higher at checkout, and the volunteer shoppers never say no. Rather, the first-responders reach into their pockets to pick up the rest of the cost, which Legaspi said can be anywhere from another $20 to $40.

The day started at 8 a.m. at Denny’s, where the local restaurant donated breakfast to the children. Followed by a brief performance of Christmas carols and a Beatles tune by Calexico High’s singing Gomez twins, Evelyn and Emily, who were backed up on acoustic guitar by Sgt. Legaspi himself, the children all climbed into Calexico patrol cars and set off on a circuitous route to Walmart, complete with lights and sirens a-blazing.

Parade-like Atmosphere

With Calexico Police Explorers and city traffic controllers leading the way, the caravan headed onto Cole Boulevard, then onto Rancho Frontera, Meadows and Andrade, before ending up on Cole again. The parade of police cars ended up at the south parking lot of Walmart, just north of Aldi, to await the aerial arrival of St. Nick.

One Calexico fire official on duty that morning, Capt. Lalo Rivera, had very official business on his mind.

“We make sure that Santa gets here through the helicopter, and we get to see the kids get excited about it as they approach the helicopter,” Rivera said. “Getting the chance to interact with the kids and seeing them smile reminds us why we do what we do.”

The event was sponsored by Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo, the Calexico Fire Department, Denny’s, Walmart, the Calexico Unified School District, Calexico City Council Member Rosie Fernandez, REACH, Paul’s Photography, which took aerial photos and video from a drone, the Juarez Lincoln Club, and the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Memorial Library, which provided all 30 youths with a tote bag, new books and school supplies. Legaspi said Gerardo took it upon himself to gather the $3,000 in donations needed to buy the children their toys.

This story is featured in the Dec 26, 2019 e-Edition.

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