Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2015

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Latino police officers bring Christmas to elementary school in the ‘barrio’


Christopher DeVargas

Students at Kermit Booker Elementary School receive toys during the “Christmas en El Barrio” toy drive, Friday Dec. 16, 2011.

Christmas en El Barrio

Leslie Valdes, owner of Abuela's Tacos, volunteers handing out toys to students at Kermit Booker Elementary School during the Launch slideshow »

Squeals of joy could be heard from the parking lot.

And the reasons became quickly apparent inside the multiuse room at Kermit R. Booker Sr. Elementary School. To the accompaniment of Santa’s chimes and Christmas carols, the Latino Peace Officers Association, in conjunction with several other Las Vegas organizations and businesses, was distributing gifts collected in its annual “Christmas en el Barrio” toy drive.

“I grew up in Las Vegas, and I know a lot of families could use the help,” Metro Police Officer Antonio Munoz said. “Also, it is always good to show these kids that the police department is not only out to arrest people. We are in the community and want to help.”

The drive is in its fourth year and is part of a nationwide program by the Latino Peace Officers Association. This is the third year that the local chapter chose to visit one school and provide a gift for each student.

In 2009, after a less structured toy giveaway the year prior, Munoz and his childhood friend Pablo Covarrubias, who owns EXIT United Realty, decided it would be fun to visit their alma mater, Sunrise Acres Elementary School, and donate gifts to every student.

“It was awesome to get to go back to Sunrise, relive old memories and help the current students,” Covarrubias said. “I grew up in the projects, right there by the school on 28th Street, and it certainly is needed. Growing up there, you hope that one day you can be successful and give something back.”

Since then, “Christmas en el Barrio” has been held in a different school each year.

On Friday, 9-year-old fourth-grader Fernanda Bernal scanned the tables full of Barbies, Nerf toys, action figures, board games, sports equipment and other toys, and selected a friendship bracelet kit.

“I like bracelets,” she said quietly. “I don’t have any bracelets now, but I’m going to go home and make some.”

Teachers, police officers and other volunteers, including Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly — bedecked with his own Santa Claus hat — helped distribute toys and maintain order while nearly 600 children, between the ages of 3 and 11, filtered through the auditorium to select their presents.

Others who helped with the drive include the law firm Dallas Horton and Associates, which held an event to collect donations on Dec. 2; the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Foundation; Joe’s Barbershop and Abuelas Tacos.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids’ faces and excitement as they pick out toys,” Abuelas Tacos owner Leslie Valdes said. “The kids are so thankful. One little girl even told me she picked something out for her little sister instead of herself.”

Booker Principal Marcus Mason said the student population at the North Las Vegas school is in need of some extra help at this time of year.

“Every single student gets to come through and pick one toy, and it really does mean a lot to them,” Mason said. “The previous principal, Dr. Beverly Mathis, started celebrating kids’ birthdays because she realized some kids wouldn’t have birthday parties. We’ve continued that tradition, as well. We become a family to these kids.”

The charity did not end with the toy drive.

As the toy drive wound down, and surplus toys were gathered for donation to the UMC pediatric center, another group started to enter the auditorium with hundreds of bags.

Metro Police employees were delivering food — nutritious offerings and sweet treats — for Booker students to take home for the holidays.

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  1. Very nice.

  2. This is what Christmas and communtiy is all about. I applaud all involved and wish them a very Merry Christmas!

  3. May we all learn that generousity is contagious and can make the giver as happy and blessed as the receiver.

    This lesson came home for me, after a wonderful classroom party(at another school), my dear students & parents, "gifted" me the leftover holiday cupcakes and 2 dozen donuts, despite my gentle protests wanting to send these leftovers home.

    As I finished this exciting day at school, I loaded up my car, and while on my way home, stopped at the local WalMart grocery store, parked next to a tiny car, backseat filled with 5 tiny Pre-K tots, with a destitute looking dad sitting at the wheel waiting on his partner who was in the store.

    It was really obvious to me that these folks have little in life other than themselves, so I pulled out the bags of festive treats, knocked on his car window, and asked if he would like the goodies for him and the children. This man was overwhelmed, began crying, thanking me profusely, and the tots were wild with joy. My heart was filled with appreciation on all levels and this experience will serve to remind me about the real meaning of the season, that of giving and receiving.

    We all can do what we can. It is terrific that entertainers, business people, civil servants, and everyday people are all doing what they can during a time of year when those without are feeling it the worst. God Bless you all!

    Blessings and Peace,