More than 500 Livingston kids received brand new bicycles on Thursday, courtesy of the Livingston Police Department and the families of Jake MacKinnon of Petaluma and the late Kalem Millard of Livingston.
The city also passed out more than 1,000 Christmas presents to underprivileged children in a well-orchestrated effort between the Livingston Police Department, its Explorer Program and the Livingston High School’s Key Club.
Along with the bicycles and other gifts, the kids got a chance to meet Santa Claus.
Nelly Rodriguez, a 6-year-old Livingston girl, said she was excited to begin riding her new blue bicycle but was having a hard time pushing it out the doors of the City Council chambers on Thursday.
“It’s nice,” she said, “and it’s too heavy.”
Nelly’s mother, Elena Soria, said it was her family’s first year participating in the program. She said it really helped her family celebrate Christmas.
“It’s just really great, a very nice thing,” Soria said.
The bicycles were collected through an annual joint effort between the Millard family of Livingston and the MacKinnon family of Petaluma. The families have collaborated for the last four years on the project.
The families have been united for nearly a decade. Kalem Millard, 20, was killed Dec. 13, 2004, during an ATV accident. After the crash, Kalem’s organs were donated, and one of the beneficiaries, then-19-year-old Jake MacKinnon of Petaluma, who suffers from diabetes, received Kalem’s pancreas. Jake previously remained at home because of his illness, but today he’s able to lead a normal life thanks to Kalem’s organ donation.
Though the families have been involved in the effort for four years, Thursday was the first time Kalem’s mother, Tish, was able to attend the giveaway. In the past, she said, her emotions have been too strong, but she wanted to try it this year.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Millard said later. “We didn’t realize how many kids were involved.”
Millard said her son would be pleased to be a part of helping so many children – though he would probably “think it was really weird.”
“He’d be totally embarrassed; he’d think it was really funny, but he’d think it was great,” his mother said.
Livingston City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez said the program illustrates the heart of the whole Livingston community.
“I believe it says that the community really cares about all its citizenry, especially the most needy families in the community,” Ramirez said. “It puts countless smiles on the faces of the children and parents alike.”
Police Chief Ruben Chavez said he was proud of the program’s success in helping children and praised efforts made earlier Thursday to reach out to the community’s senior citizens as well. Chavez and others visited the senior center and, along with Santa Claus, passed out 18 presents.
“They’re all really just big kids at heart, I told them, and Santa knows they’ve also been good this year,” the chief said. “It’s good for everybody to get a gift for Christmas.”