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Livingston kids reap rewards of police toy drive

BEA AHBECK/bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com
Alyssa Blaine, 8, of Livingston, is very happy over her pillow pet which she received while visiting the Kops for Kids event at the Livingston Council Chambers in Livingston, Calif. Wed. Dec. 21, 2011. Over 1300 preregistered children received gifts from Santa Claus.
BEA AHBECK/bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com Alyssa Blaine, 8, of Livingston, is very happy over her pillow pet which she received while visiting the Kops for Kids event at the Livingston Council Chambers in Livingston, Calif. Wed. Dec. 21, 2011. Over 1300 preregistered children received gifts from Santa Claus. Merced Sun-Star

LIVINGSTON -- A line of kids stretched along Main Street and meandered into the City Council chambers toward a mountain of presents piled behind Santa Claus on Wednesday.

The event was the culmination of an annual toy drive spearheaded by the Livingston Police Department to provide gifts for children of economically disadvantaged families.

In Livingston, per capita income is about half the average rate for the rest of California. The proportion of people living in poverty is also slightly higher than the state average at 14.3 percent, according to recent census data.

Since Christmas can be a tough time for many families, the city's "Kops 4 Kids" toy drive is an important effort, said interim Chief Chris Soria of the Livingston Police Department, who did his part Wednesday by greeting kids while wearing a bear costume.

"It's just to reach out to the underprivileged kids who can't actually get anything for Christmas," he said. "It's just to give back, give back to all the kids here in this community."

Several members of the Livingston High School cross country team were also on hand Wednesday to help with the event, and spent much of their time Tuesday wrapping the gifts.

Foster Farms, Dallas Distributing Co. and Livingston High School were among some of the biggest donors, according to Soria and Sgt. Ray Fong. Many residents also dropped off gifts during the drive.

The Millard family donated 30 bikes in memory of their son, Kalem Millard, who died in an ATV accident in 2004, according to Fong.

More than 1,300 kids registered for Wednesday's event, he said.

Councilman Frank Vierra said the annual event is well-received among residents.

"It's a great thing for kids," he said. "There are a lot of deserving kids in Livingston."

As usual, this is one time of year the council chambers are reserved solely for cheer and togetherness.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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