When children boarded a pair of party buses at Wichita police stations for a barbecue restaurant, they didn’t know Santa Claus would give each of them a bag of presents to take home.
For at least one little girl, when she got out of Santa’s lap, she carried back a bag of gifts nearly as big as she was.
Officers with the Wichita Police Department partnered with community donors and volunteers to provide a holiday feast with gifts for 10 families on Sunday. At Pig In! Pig Out! BBQ and Catering, the families ate a barbecue meal provided by the restaurant.
Some children asked for toys, including action figures and balls. But many families also asked for basic necessities, said Sgt. Kenneth Kimble, one of the event organizers. Blankets, curtains, pots and pans, clothing, shoes, and diapers all appeared on family wish lists when police asked what they wanted from Santa.
“One family, the girl only wanted boots,” Kimble said. “She could have put down anything, as much stuff as she wanted, and she put down boots.
“So of course we got her more.”
And what about the rest of her family? Her younger siblings only asked for an art set and a doll.
A few bicycles were given out this year. Kimble said they can’t typically afford to give out bikes, but they had more donations this year than in previous years.
This was the 10th year police have partnered with Shawn Brand of Wichita Dent Company to help families who are having difficulties during the holiday season, Kimble said. Other groups donate or volunteer, including businesses, a church and members of the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.
Some years, the kids open their gifts while at the restaurant. This year, though, they all saved their presents to take home.
Many of the families were chosen by police after officers met them while responding to a call, Kimble said. Some of the children have met officers before, but not all. The holiday feast provides a positive interaction with police.
“I want them to see us in a positive light,” Kimble said. “So their first contact with an officer is not negative.”
One family there didn’t have children sitting on Santa’s lap. The older couple, Kimble said, is struggling with medical conditions. Both of them are fighting cancer, and they asked for a coffee pot and gloves.
They’ll get both, Kimble said. And some cream, sugar and two types of coffee, too.
Tara Vernon and her three children, Chanelle, 11, Laila, 10, and Onaliyah, 1, went to the feast.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” Chanelle said. “I thought we were going to get on a bus, eat, celebrate Christmas and go back home.”
But now she and each of her sisters have a bag full of gifts to take back home.
“They didn’t know Santa was going to be here” Vernon said. “... So when we got here, they were all surprised and happy. I think this just made their year.”