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CHP helps Santa make early visit
Nearly three dozen first-graders from San Pasqual Elementary School got to meet Santa Claus Wednesday, compliments of the California Highway Patrol Winterhaven Area Station.
Old Saint Nick personally handed out a unique present to each of the school kids who then eagerly tore the wrapping paper to shreds with frantic speed.
The students were personally selected by their teachers at San Pasqual for being the most in need of some good-time holiday cheer.
The students were bussed to the Winterhaven station, where they met Chipper, the CHP mascot. They were then treated to pizza and given a tour of the building before Santa's arrival.
"This is the first year and hopefully it will be something we will continue to do and try to make a little bit bigger every year," said CHP Lt. John Swaim.
San Pasqual special education teacher Susan Shooter was along with the lucky kids and was especially impressed by the hard work CHP put forth to make the event a success.
"This has been great. It has been so well organized and the children have been very well behaved and very well engaged in what CHP does," she said.
"They got to turn on the sirens and all listened with their big eyes to the whole flow of everything. They fed them lunch and took them out and had them beg for Santa to come, and he came. Everything has been very positive ... and the children, many of them would probably not have had any Christmas presents otherwise."
Shooter said having the students interact with the CHP officers was a great way to introduce those in law enforcement in a positive way.
"Due to personal family circumstances, I think a lot of these children may have had some negative associations with the California Highway Patrol and police in general, and I think this went a long way to dispel some of those images, because the (patrolmen) were very friendly, warm, open and fun."
Swaim said the CHP wants to connect with the people they serve.
"We are also out there to do community service and get involved in the community and actually be a part of the community. The majority of our officers live in the Yuma area so they are all part of the community. This is just another function we are here for."
Swaim said he and his officers had to work some CHP magic to get Santa to come and hand out presents a week early.
"We pulled a lot of strings and we were able to convince Santa to come on out. It took a little bit of tuggin’ but we finally got him out here."
Santa's reindeer were off duty, said Swain, so CHP Officer Steve Gronbach picked him up in his patrol car and brought him to the station with sirens blazing and lights flashing to meet the enraptured children.
"That's correct, somehow the reindeer were a little tired and are still preparing for the big Christmas season and decided to stay home, so we had to go out and pick him up."
Santa Claus took a moment to talk to the Yuma Sun about why he came a week early.
"I heard there were some special kids that needed some special presents, and I had time. So I decided to come down here and hand out some special presents," he said, continuing on to explain how he got to Winterhaven all the way from the North Pole with no reindeer.
"Santa is magic and he can get to wherever he needs to be, and Officer Steve Gronbach was there to give me a ride the rest of the way."
Santa handed out presents one by one to the children, adding it was special because many kids never get to open presents in front of him.
"It made me feel really good. It was nice and I really enjoyed it. Be really good because you never know, Santa might show up at your school one day and give you a special present. Better watch out, Santa is watching and listening."
According to Swaim, each present was donated by CHP officers, agents from the U.S. Customs Service at the Andrade port of entry and several local businesses.
"It has been just fantastic and has been a great turnout and the kids are happy," he said.
"The kids just went wild about (Santa), which is great. It reminds me of my kids, who are a little older now, you know, so they don't get that high level of enthusiasm, but it just makes me feel really good. It is a fantastic feeling watching kids tearing into something they still believe in."
Gronbach was happy to see the great gifts each child received. "Santa hooked ’em up and brought them good gifts."
After the event, Swaim took the opportunity to remind the public to enjoy the holidays responsibly.
"We want everybody to have a safe holiday season, buckle up and obey the speed laws and if you are going to drink, select a designated driver."