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Officers share holiday cheer at care center

Some people may not get any Christmas presents this year. Worse yet, there might not be any friends and family members to wish them a merry Christmas.

Raquel Rios couldn't stand to see that happen and is spearheading a program Friday morning to make lives better at Merced Living Care Center, 510 W. 26th St. Rios, a Merced Police Department officer since January, said the holiday relief effort gives her an "awesome" feeling.

Police officers, dispatchers, lieutenants and other department staff pooled their resources to buy 16 personal gifts for elderly residents at the local residential care facility who don't have any relatives.

The Merced Police Officers Association also contributed $500 to buy 60 throw blankets for others at the complex.

"It's about giving back to the community, showing another side to law enforcement," Rios said. "It brings me joy knowing we can give something as simple as slippers. When I was a Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy, I went to a similar event at a Modesto convalescent hospital. It was an awesome experience and was really neat."

The program takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Merced police officers and city firefighters will team up to spread holiday cheer to Merced Living Care Center residents. That complex is part of the beat Rios regularly patrols.

Lt. Andre Matthews said Rios and Gayle Yniguez, police background investigator, began working on this program several months ago as part of the department's community policing efforts.

Rios met with the center's director and some of the health care professionals who work with patients in the facility and together they identified ways to improve the quality of the holidays for the residents.

In addition to receiving gifts from officers and firefighters, the residents will be treated to Christmas carols sung by children from Merced Seventh-day Adventist Church. Kindergartners from Charles Wright Elementary School have made personalized Christmas cards for senior citizens. Three disability dogs will be on hand as well.

Yniguez said people seem to forget about the elderly and some don't have any family.

"We always do a lot for the kids but not much for senior citizens," Yniguez said. "I thought this was a great idea and a very worthwhile project. I hope we really make some people happy this Christmas. That's pretty fulfilling."

Rios expects Friday's program to be a success and said future efforts will be even bigger and better.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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