The Christmas season got a little brighter on Wednesday for some Merced kids who’ve had some tough times recently.
Merced police pitched in to help 18 kids who are underprivileged or from families that have fallen on hard times. Kids such as 6-year-old Jocelyn Chavez.
A little more than two weeks ago, Jocelyn’s good friend and neighbor, 5-year-old Geraldine Perez, died in a duplex fire on East 10th Street. Geraldine’s father, Ignacio Figueroa-Bautista, and her uncle, Jesus, also died in the fire. Jocelyn’s family has since found a new place to live. Jocelyn lost her home and one of her best friends.
“They played all the time together,” said Jocelyn’s mother, Rosalinda Villanueva. “The kids, they should just be happy.”
Jocelyn lost many of her clothes in the fire, but on Wednesday, Detective Raquel Rios helped Jocelyn replace some of her wardrobe.
Seventeen city police officers and one officer from the California Highway Patrol went shopping Wednesday at the Merced Mall for the Police Department’s annual Shop with a Cop Christmas program. Each child had $120 to spend. Most kids bought winter clothes and gifts for their families.
The money is raised each year through a pancake breakfast benefit and community donations, and many of the officers chip in a few dollars for the kids during the shopping spree.
“These are such great kids; they have such great hearts and, most of them, the first thing they think about is their family, before they even think about themselves,” Capt. Tom Trindad said.
Meng Xiong, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, got to hang out with Detective Paul Johnson and bought Christmas toys from himself and his family.
“I got ‘Halo’ toys, from the video game, and a Ninja Turtle toy for my brother,” Meng said.
“And a remote-control helicopter,” Johnson reminded him.
Capt. Bimley West took 7-year-old Johnny Cortez to meet Santa Claus. The Merced first-grader had a lot of questions about Christmas, presents and toys, but first asked “the boss of Christmas” to clear up a holiday-related question that Johnny has had on his mind for awhile.
“Who is the boss of Halloween?” he asked.
That issue remained a mystery Wednesday.
Meanwhile, across the mall, CHP Officer Jason Schoonhoven and 10-year-old Miguel Mencia were on a mission to find a fleece sweatshirt. They struck out at several mall shops before finding a shirt with the perfect fit tucked away in a small corner of Sears.
“He didn’t want too much; he seems like a very content kid,” Schoonhoven said later. “He just really wanted that sweatshirt because the zipper on his was broken.”
Schoonhoven said he was grateful that the Merced police invited his department to join them Wednesday.
“They did all the fundraising and just wanted another officer to come along so each kid would get some one-on-one time,” Schoonhoven said. “It was really a great experience.”
Police Chief Norman Andrade, who implemented the program five years ago, said it’s a great opportunity to help Merced kids, many of whom otherwise may not have much at Christmas.
“A lot of times, people only see police officers when something negative has happened,” Andrade noted. “But this gives us all an opportunity build positive relationships and to enjoy Christmas by giving back to the community.”
Sun-Star photographer Bea Ahbeck Casson contributed to this story.