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Annual event expands thanks to additional first responders
A group that includes Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann, former Lathrop City Councilman Steve Dresser, Lathrop High School Principal Greg Leland and others pose with San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow outside of the Target in Lathrop for 2018’s “Blue Santa” event

Ryan Biedermann will never forget the 10-year-old boy that he took into Target for the first time to buy $200 worth of toys for himself.

As part of an annual Christmas toy giveaway to children in need throughout San Joaquin County, Biedermann – the Lathrop Police Chief who was serving as a lieutenant assigned to the city at the time – remembers seeing the boy’s eyes light up at the sight of so many toys in the store and the idea that he got to pick out anything that he wanted for himself.

But the boy didn’t immediately start choosing things for himself.

Instead, he started picking out toys for his siblings and things for his parents – something that caught the longtime lawman off-guard when he realized what the boy was doing.

“He walked around that corner and saw all of the toys and couldn’t believe what he was seeing – he couldn’t believe that there was a place that had that many toys in one spot,” Biedermann said. “And even with a $200 budget, he wasn’t getting stuff for him – he was getting stuff for his family. I got together with our Deputy Sheriff’s Association and we all chipped in to make sure that he could get whatever he wanted inside of the store.

“That’s what Christmas is all about – trying to make it better for kids, especially those that might have a whole lot. That kid was overwhelmed, and beyond thankful, and that one experience was enough to make the entire thing worthwhile.”

Next Wednesday, dozens of kids from around San Joaquin County will get the chance to have a special Christmas thanks to the ongoing collaboration between Target and the first responders in the areas that they serve.

While the name of the event has been changed from “Blue Santa” to “Heroes and Helpers” to coincide with the joint undertaking that now includes the Lathrop Manteca Fire District and the Stockton Unified School District (Biedermann’s twin brother is the acting superintendent), the event will still give dozens of kids that wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity the chance to have a special Christmas.

From 6 to 8 a.m. on Dec. 9 representatives from the agencies collaborating on the event will be meeting the kids in the parking lot and taking their wish-lists inside to make purchases that will allow for them to have a very special holiday with their family. Through individual donations from places like Elk Grove GMC – the lead donor this year – and ongoing community partner River Islands as well as the agencies themselves, the event also enjoys an added boost from Target who provides discounts to help the money raised go a little bit further for the community and the kids.

Chase Chevrolet of Stockton will also be on hand to cook breakfast for the kids and their families as they wait for the officers to come out of the store.

“It’s a countywide event for children that don’t have a whole lot, and it makes it special to be a part of something like that,” Biedermann said. “We just want to make this something that they won’t forget – the pandemic has made this year harder than normal, and hopefully this will bring a smile.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.