When people think of the holidays, they often think of the red and green lights of Christmas; the blue and white colors of Hanukkah; the green, red, and black of Kwanzaa; or the yellow-gold light of a burning yule log or candles.
This holiday season, many in the community felt the holiday spirit when they saw red and blue—the lights on the San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) Police cars that delivered holiday food baskets, toys and more to families in need.
District Police officers launched Stuff-A-Bus earlier this month. So far, they have collected more than 1,500 unwrapped toys and books for underprivileged children, and the bus is expected to make a few more stops before the toy drive is complete. The goal is to make sure that as many children as possible have a gift to unwrap on Christmas morning. And, since the District Police officers are almost as competitive as they are generous, they decided it would be fun to see which SBCUSD school or department could stuff the most toys in the bus.
“Our team thought that if we could just stuff a bus with toys, we can have a significant impact on underprivileged kids in our community during this holiday season,” Sergeant John Guttierez said. “The joy from the participating students and staff from Pacific, San Gorgonio, San Bernardino, Cajon, and Indian Springs High Schools coupled with the District’s Maintenance & Operations (team) and Thinkwise Credit Union was unbelievable to see.”
As of December 17, San Gorgonio High School was in the lead, collecting more than 1,000 toys. Although, the real winners are the children.
Stuff-A-Bus is just one of many programs that District Police has launched this school year in order to reach out to and support the local community. Although each program has its own specific purpose, the overall theme has been about connecting with the adults and children in the SBCUSD community and showing them that District Police officers exist to keep children safe and help families succeed, not just to hold them accountable.
The community outreach began in August with National Night Out at Davidson Elementary School. Students, parents, and local residents were all invited to enjoy some free hamburgers cooked by officers while they learned about local resources that can help families stay safe and stable.
The department launched Coffee with a Cop back in October at Paakuma’ K-8 School as an opportunity for officers to meet with parents in a safe and open space where they can share a cup of coffee, courtesy of Starbucks, and conversation. District Police held six more Coffee with a Cop events in just under two months, meeting with 400 community members.
“We hope it’s a chance for people to learn more about what police officers, and especially District Police officers, do and also to understand that we’re people, just like they are, and we want our community to flourish,” Guttierez said.
Last month, officers used their black and white police cars not to transport criminals, but to deliver Thanksgiving meals, complete with frozen turkeys, directly to the homes of 52 needy families.
According to officers, it was among the highlights of their day. Corporal Jonathan Falcon personally delivered Thanksgiving dinner to a family of four in an older apartment complex plagued with crime, and although he was originally met with suspicion, by the time his good deed was done, the residents were grateful.
In the past six months, other initiatives have included the Pink Patch Project and No Shave November, both of which bring awareness to and raise funds for breast cancer support and research, and Shop with a Cop, which involved 15 District Police officers shopping with needy students for clothes and toys. Officers, along with students in the Police Explorers program, also supported the SBCUSD Craft Faire, which raises money for scholarships.
District Police Chief Joseph Paulino and Assistant Chief Stephen Donahue have supported the efforts of their officers to reach out to the community, and they have been equally pleased that the community has responded with so much support. In addition to Thinkwise Credit Union and Starbucks, Durham Bus Company, NBC4 News, the District Police Cadets, and the entire SBCUSD multimedia team in Communications/Community Relations have stepped up to offer their assistance.
That has sparked District Police to do even more. In January 2019, officers will be participating in the Battle of the Badge Blood Drive and launching the Chief’s Read Across the District campaign, which involves law enforcement officers from multiple agencies coming together to read books to students.
“District Police is an agency that is on the move,” Guttierez said. “We’re taking community engagement to a new level and using it as a catalyst for hope.”