Who needs Rudolph’s red nose when you’ve got red lights and sirens?
Santa Claus made four stops in Manteca Monday thanks to his helper Manteca Police Officer Mike Kelly.
Kelly led a procession with the California Highway Patrol and agents from Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) and the Manteca Police Department Canine Association with red lights flashing and sirens blaring to bring Christmas to 16 children that were in need of toys, clothes and holiday cheer from Santa Claus.
There were another 15 volunteers that joined the group that visited homes from Edwards Avenue to Maple Avenue and the HOPE Family Shelter on West Yosemite Avenue. The officers’ arrival brought neighbors out of their homes to watch the caravan of vehicles roll down their streets.
Kelly – no stranger to kids during the Yuletide season – had visited the homes last week to confirm they were really in need of his help before asking for the backup of other officers to respond with him on Monday. He had also called the Stockton CHP office and talked with its public information officers James Smith and Dan Sepulveda, with the CHP providing clothes, shoes, toys and games for one of the homes. Officer Smith has also been there for kids in past years.
Four of the teenaged Manteca Explorers Nate Krebbs, Michael Kelly, Jr., Adriana Vargas and Daniel Vega also took part in the deliveries. The CHP Explorer was Martha Navarette.
“We called parents and asked them to keep their kids inside,” Kelly said. “They hadn’t been told and we wanted it to be a surprise. We also told the moms they would hear us coming.”
Officer Kelly said the children all came out of their homes very excited at seeing Santa in the first police car, greeting them with candy, along with his helpers coming behind him with bags filled with toys and clothes.
“A couple of the moms were crying,” he said. “It was hugs all around after the kids spied baseballs and remote control cars in Santa’s bags.”
“We put all our monies on clothes, blankets and shoes,” Kelly said.
Manteca Canine Officers Richard Smigelski and Randy Chiek had their police dogs Kato and Max at their sides with the children rushing to pet them in the crowd of well wishers. One little girl at a home on Maple Avenue was afraid of the dogs but soon was seen giggling riding down the sidewalk on her new bike.
Kelly noted that the U.S. Marine Corps detachment at Sharpe Army Depot provided many of the toys through the Toys for Tots Campaign .
Officer Kelly took a vacation day so he could be involved in the program while other officers were also on hand without pay to be part of the effort to take care of the children.
“We do this every year using donations (plus help from) the Chief’s Foundation,” Kelly said. “I put my feelers out and got 15 kids’ names almost immediately. The Canine Unit stepped up as did the Marine Corps.”
A mom named Michelle, who has fallen on hard times recently, saw officers give her two boys — 7 and 8 years old — gifts they would have otherwise not had on Christmas morning.
“You should have seen their faces when they saw Santa and the police cars,” the mom said. “It has totally touched our lives. This Christmas has been one of the best blessings I have had in years. It’s made me laugh and cry at the same time. After Santa and the officers left, my boys called their Grandmother who is ill along with an older sister and brother – both at work – so they left messages and are expecting calls back from them.”
The mother, who is a widow, said Kelly has been looking out for them for years and is now looking for a rental they can use since their landlady has passed away and they are being forced to move out by a family member. Kelly had said he is also looking for a used couch for the family after seeing that their front living room is devoid of furniture.
Officer Kelly – dressed in civilian clothes – promised the younger brother last week that the next time he came by their home he would be dressed in his uniform and with a police car, the mom said. One of the memorable things in the day was seeing a police dog actually pose for the cameras, she added.
She added that her 7-year-old was very excited. He had been wanting to visit Santa at Manteca’s Bass Pro Shops since he first arrived and was upset that his mother hadn’t taken him there yet. She said he told her on Monday, “I think that was the real Santa!”
At the HOPE Family Shelter a grandmother named Tina said the police dogs were really popular with the children as officers visited three different upstairs and downstairs apartments. “The two little ones Alayna, 5, and Emily 7, both attending Golden West School had been faithful in doing their chores,” she said. One 15-year-old boy got a new bike for Christmas – the first in his lifetime. The younger children even had their pictures taken with the police canines”
In addition to their gift giving surprises this week in Manteca, both the CHP and Manteca PD have already played the part of Santa at many other homes earlier in the month.