Santa Barbara Police Activities League helps families build happy memories
Children got to meet Santa Claus on Wednesday when the Santa Barbara Police Activities League hosted its Winter Wonderland for low-income families.
This year’s Santa Barbara event was conducted in a walkabout style for the safety of all attendees, families and their children, who walked through the Carousel House on Cabrillo Boulevard. That’s where they got their photos taken with Santa and received a gift and hot chocolate from local police officers.
Children also got to take home a gingerbread house during the 21st annual event.
For many children, this may be the only gift they receive this year, or this may be the first Christmas that they have received a gift, according to the Santa Barbara Police Activities League. It may also be a child’s first opportunity to meet and take a photo with Santa.
Another first for many children is the interaction with law enforcement, especially on a positive note, the league noted.
“We want the children to feel comfortable calling the police if they are in an emergency situation,” league Executive Director Judie Lugo told the News-Press. “If they have had a positive interaction with law enforcement and developed a relationship with an officer, they are much more likely to feel comfortable.”
Each family is referred to the program through the AOK program, an afterschool program for Title 1 schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. This ensures that children who are truly in need of the program will benefit from it.
In years past, the league has held similar events, dating all the way back to 2000. Most prior events have been a sit-down style Christmas dinner, however, due to the pandemic, that was not an option this year.
This is the league’s 21st year of giving out gifts to low-income children and families. In addition to the league, this year’s event sponsors included 911 At Ease International, I3 Vertical and Tri-County Produce Co. These sponsors made it possible for more than 100 children to be served by the league.
“This event is one of our biggest events that is the center of our mission,” Ms. Lugo told the News-Press. “It brings the police, the kids and the community together. It’s not just a gift, it’s a memory. We are rewarding the parents for working so hard each year.
“We tell the families that this is Santa’s gift to you,” she said. “This system allows the family member, who is not always the parent, to give the child the gift at the most fitting time. Most families save the gift for Christmas day.
“It’s more than a gift. We want to bring the family together. Most families can’t remember the last time they sat down and had dinner together, which is why we have done sit-down dinners in the years past,” said Ms. Lugo,
“It’s all about family and getting everyone together and experiencing something fun and exciting. We want to give them a memory they will have forever.”