Updated Dec. 25, 1:15 a.m.–
With flashing lights and sirens blaring, over 20 police officers were joined by their families, community members, and the mayor of Citrus Heights to hand-deliver gifts at five locations around the city on Tuesday afternoon.
The deliveries were part of an annual police-led community effort called the Holiday Referral Program, which Sgt. Kris Frey said has benefited around 30 families so far this year — four of whom were selected for the special drop-off’s conducted on Dec. 20.
The sergeant said all of the families selected to benefit from the program and gift drop had suffered a recent hardship, with one child’s mother having passed away in October following heart surgery.
Locations included homes on Centurion Circle, Terrell Drive, Stanford Avenue, and Villa Oak Drive — with the large convoy concluding on Sayonara Drive for a final gift drop to dozens of children at the Sayonara Community Center.
“I have no family, I have no parents,” said Elizabeth Kennedy, whose five-year-old son was treated to gifts and “happy birthday” being sung by police officers outside their home on Terrell Drive. “I’m just in shock, I wasn’t expecting so much.”
Other residents were also surprised after seeing the 20-plus vehicle convoy traveling through their neighborhood with lights flashing and sirens blaring, assuming police were responding to a crime.
“I ran out of the house to see what’s going on,” said resident Kim Cao, who lives next door to one of the families visited by the police convoy. Her concern soon turned to a smile however, after she figured out her neighbors were the recipients of a surprise gift drop.
Now in its eighth year, police said the Holiday Referral Program was created to provide participating families with food, household items, clothes and toys for children. Gift donations are collected by social clubs, business groups, churches, schools, and community members.
Each year the department accepts referral applications from the community who refer local families they believe have experienced a recent hardship. Police then work to select qualified families who will benefit from the program, with several families selected for a personalized gift drop.
“The hugs, the love, the tears — this is just a great opportunity for us to connect with our community and they really appreciate it,” said Police Chief Ron Lawrence, who participated in the event for the first time this year as the city’s new chief of police. “This is my first time — and it won’t be my last.”