Calif. deputies, COs take kids on holiday shopping spree

The fourth annual Blue Santa event hosted 30 deserving children; the kids could select anything they wanted adding up to $160

By Joe Goldeen
The Record

LATHROP, Calif. — Meet Natalie. Well-spoken, humble, artistic, smart beyond her years — and learning to deal with the trauma of recent violence that split her world apart.

The 11-year-old turns to art and music to express herself. That came up during her shopping spree before dawn Wednesday at the Lathrop Target store during Lathrop Police Services' fourth annual Blue Santa event that hosted 30 deserving children.

San Joaquin County sheriff's Detective Teresa Morgan, left, watches as Natalie wheels her new bike through checkout during Wednesday's fourth annual Blue Santa event.
San Joaquin County sheriff's Detective Teresa Morgan, left, watches as Natalie wheels her new bike through checkout during Wednesday's fourth annual Blue Santa event. (Calixtro Romias/The Record via Tribune News Service)

Each child was escorted by a San Joaquin County sheriff's deputy or correctional officer through the massive store — two hours before it opened to the public — where they could select anything they wanted adding up to $160, courtesy of Target.

Natalie — only her first name was given because her family is the victim of a serious crime — spent a lot of time in the arts and crafts aisle with her escort, Robbery/Homicide Detective Teresa Morgan, deciding which colored pens and sketch pads to choose. She finally settled on a large box of Sharpies and paper with printed backgrounds.

She picked up two pairs of black-and-white tennis shoes, shimmer spray, a full-size basketball, Elmer's Ultimate Slime Kit, an adult tote bag and, to help her listen to music, a blue Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet.

Thinking she had spent the entire $160, Natalie was prepared to go to the cashier when Morgan told her there was one more stop they had to make. On the way, they said hello to K-9 handler Deputy Ryan Evangelista and his black German shepherd Rocky.

"Your grandmother told me you need a new bike," Morgan said over Natalie's mild objection that the bike she had now was "good enough." Short story: Natalie ended up with a new black-and-red Mongoose, and a new helmet.

While the bike brought her total to well over the $160 limit, the remainder was paid by the Deputy Sheriff's Association, which also bought bikes for two other children along with clothing for several others.

In addition to Target and the DSA, other Blue Santa sponsors included the San Joaquin County Correctional Officers Association, Starbucks, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Lathrop Sunrise Rotary Club — that provided Natalie and others with new coats just in time for Wednesday's rainfall.

The children were selected for the Blue Santa event by sheriff's deputies who serve as school resource officers throughout the county and have never had a similar experience. Forty-one Sheriff's Office personnel volunteered to help organize and escort the kids through the store, interacting with them and even teaching them a little about the value of money.

Morgan specifically chose to escort Natalie after getting to know her while investigating the violent shooting of Natalie's father, who is still recovering from severe facial wounds. After the incident, Natalie went to live with her grandmother.

"Holidays don't really get me too excited because I'm not with all my family. This is a good day," Natalie said, referring to many bad days she's recently experienced.

"For some reason, my family has a problem with fighting on holidays. Grandma pulls them together," she said.

"I could use these situations to bring me down in the dumps, but who wants to walk around in dread all the time? I rely on music and drawing to help me. Who wants to have a heart filled with dread and sadness? I want a heart filled with kindness and confidence. That is going to be more life assuring," Natalie said.

As she was talking about what helps her, Natalie out of the blue recited the first verse of a current popular song performed by Lewis Capaldi entitled "Someone You Loved" that she said captures somewhat how she feels:

"I'm going under, and this time, I fear there's no one to save me

This all or nothing really got a way of driving me crazy

I need somebody to heal, somebody to know

Somebody to have, somebody to hold

It's easy to say, but it's never the same

I guess I kinda liked the way you numbed all the pain."

As they parted, Natalie and Morgan embraced. "Thank you so much for the experience. I'm just thankful to be a part of this," the experienced homicide detective said.

"Thank YOU so much," Natalie beamed. "I'm happy now."


©2019 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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