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Manteca Police wait tables for charity

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Manteca Police Reserve Officer Eugene Estrella takes an order.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED April 19, 2013 1:57 a.m.

It takes reserve Manteca Police officer Eugene Estrella less than 30 steps to chase down a purse snatcher while on-duty.

But Wednesday night it only took him 25 to refill the iced tea of a customer at Chili’s for the Manteca Police Officer’s Association annual “Tip-A-Cop” event that benefits Special Olympics of Northern California.

Sliding in to help regular servers during the dinner rush, Estrella was part of a team of off-duty Manteca Police volunteers that did everything possible to improve the overall dining experience of customers at the popular Manteca haunt.

Service, however, comes with a price.

Additional tips from patrons went to the fund that the organization will donate to Special Olympics later this month. The Northern California subset – which hosts the annual games for adults with handicaps and disabilities – has long been a benefactor of the local police union, and receives actual volunteer support from its members during the event itself.

Manteca Police Sergeant and Public Information Officer Jodie Estarziau said that the event at Chili’s is both an opportunity to raise money for a great cause and a chance to get out in the public and show the human side of the officers that put their lives on the line each time they pin the badge to their chest.

“We have a lot of special needs people that can benefit from an event such as the Special Olympics and the athletic opportunities that it provides,” she said. “It’s a chance to compete against other people and build self-esteem and confidence.

“Once you’re there and you see it it’s invaluable.”

Estarziau said that the event helps “bridge the gap” between law enforcement and the community, providing officers and key staff members the chance to interact in a 1-on-1 basis with members of the public in a friendly and positive environment.

The fact that the money received at the end of the night goes to a good cause, she said, is just the icing on the cake.

“We’ve had people go up and volunteer and participate in a few of the Northern California events – watching the medal ceremony is such a wonderful experience,” she said. “This is a way to share something beneficial with the public, and obviously put a face behind the badge – to show people that we’re more than just police officers.”

And the public was more than willing to participate.

Rui Gonzalves would have been happy with just his chicken salad, but the local father – who had no idea that the event was going on – was happy to open his wallet and make a donation when he found out why the uniformed police officers were doing prowling the restaurant.

“I think that it’s great. I used to work with handicapped people, and any organization that puts forth an effort like this for people with special needs is fine by me,” he said. “I think that it’s wonderful and worthy, and it was a nice treat to see that tonight.”

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