Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo (from right), Santa Claus, Kids N’ Badges-Calexico Unites coordinator Sgt. Victor Legaspi, and two other officers from the Police Department stand with a Calexico girl who was one of two children invited to the police station in person to receive a new bicycle and toys as part of the 17th Kids N’ Badges-Calexico Unites event on Dec. 17, 2020. Some 46 children had goodie bags with gift cards and other items delivered to their homes by Santa and his law enforcement “elves” earlier that morning. This year, Kid ‘N’ Badges returns to its pre-pandemic form. | CALEXICO CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
CALEXICO — The Calexico Police Department, with the support of the Fire Department, will host its 18th annual Kids ‘N’ Badges event, returning to the pre-COVID tradition of taking some of the underserved children in Calexico to breakfast before taking them on a holiday shopping spree.
“This year what I’m gunning for, and pushing for, is to do with the traditional way of having breakfast with them rather than the drive-thru event we did last year,” Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said in a phone interview on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
While this event has occurred every year for the last 18 years, last year saw a drive-by event in order to meet the pandemic restrictions at the time. Officers handed out gifts through the window of cars and made some deliveries to homes. That iteration of the event provided children with presents but did not create the connections between the department and the community that the previous years had developed, the chief said.
The traditional set up for the Kids ‘N’ Badges program, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning, Dec. 14, Gerardo said, will have a group of disadvantaged youths picked up and partnered with an officer or a firefighter, who will then take them to breakfast and spend the morning getting to know them.
“It’s a pretty good way for them to meet a police officer in a positive way. I mean, because some of these children only hear negative stuff or they’ve been there when one of their parents or a brother, or sister, or an uncle of someone in the household gets arrested,” Gerardo said. “What we try to do is to take and say, hey, look, you know, we’re not bad people. We like eating pancakes just like you do … we drink hot chocolate like you do.”
Calexico’s is one of several toy drives and holiday gift-giving events planned over the next few weeks throughout the Imperial Valley (see more about farther down the page).
Meanwhile, for Kids ‘N’ Badges, following breakfast, the officers take the youths to Calexico’s Walmart, where the youths are given a $100 gift card to be able to spend on almost anything in the store they like. Many youths use this to buy practical items, like new school uniforms or other clothes, rather than the toys we expect children to buy, Gerardo said.
The chief said his staff try to make sure that the youths get at least one toy during the spree, even if the officers have to purchase it out their own pocket.
This program is made possible by a long list of supporters, Gerardo said. In addition to the police and fire departments, the Imperial County’s District Attorney’s Office, Walmart, and many private donors from around the county assist. For more information on the program contact the Calexico Police Department’s executive assistant, Martha Gutierrez, at 760-768-4046.
Kids ‘N’ Badges was inspired by the Shop with A Cop program, a national program where law enforcement officers take youths shopping, including in Imperial County. Unfortunately, due to complications involving pandemic restrictions, Shop with A Cop will not be held for the rest of the county this year, but there are many other toy drives occurring. Here are just a few.
The Magic of Giving — Calexico Neighborhood House at 506 E. Fourth St. is hosting its annual The Magic of Giving event, which is a Christmas toy drive, with the aim to provide a Christmas gift for more than 500 low-income children in Heber and Calexico. Distribution dates could not immediately be verified. For more information, call Neighborhood House at 760-427-7308 or visit the website: https://nhclx.org
Salvation Army’s Angel Tree/Adopt-A-Family — Christmas assistance for both programs will be handed out on Dec. 16th at 9 a.m. at the Salvation Army Thrift Store location on Fourth Street and Ross Avenue. Families with children apply for Christmas assistance, and they will receive toys for their underage children along with a box of food. Seniors age 65-plus are also able to apply for a food box. Contact Majors Saul and Jessica Doria at 760-352-4528 to find out how to participate or email Saul.Doria@usw.salvationarmy.org for more information.
Toys for Tots — The Off Road Pit at 321 E. Main St. has been hosting a Toys for Tots dropoff since Nov. 13. Wrapped toys can be donated there through Dec. 10. Toys for Tots is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, which distributes toys to economically disadvantaged children for Christmas. For more information, you can visit the shop or call 760-970-4737.
Sure Helpline Crisis Center — Sure Helpline Crisis Center received 200 toys from El Centro Regional Medical Center on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to be handed out on Dec. 22 at its office located at 654 Main St., though times could not be verified. For more info contact the Sure Helpline Crisis Center at 760-352-7878.
Christmas Toy Drive-Thru — La Fonda Restaurant at 1950 S. 4th St. will be hosting Christmas Toy Drive-Thru on Dec. 12th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Organizers are requesting that attendees bring new, unwrapped toys to be donated as Christmas presents for disadvantaged children. For more information, flyers state to call George at 760-556-8150 or G-Lo at 951-201-1214.
House of Bread Ministries Christmas Outreach — The House of Bread Ministries Christmas Outreach is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 18 at the Lion’s Center, 225 A St. Once the event starts, the doors will shut and no one will be allowed. The event is a public event with activities and gifts for the children who attend. Register with Sharlene Rodriguez at 760-562-6567.
Donations for this event can be received by Rodriguez or at the Brawley Police Department, with it being addressed to House of Bread Ministries Christmas Outreach. The ministry will also be collecting donations in front of Walmart on Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5 from 4 to 8 p.m.
Calipatria Toy Giveaway — The 11th annual Calipatria Toy Giveaway will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at Calipatria’s Well Being Center, 101 N. Lake St. Toys will be donated needy children from the community for Christmas. This event is put on by Raul and Diego Navarro, and for more information contact Raul Navarro at 760-960-3645 or email email@example.com