For its 15th year in a row, Santa and the Omaha Police Department celebrated Christmas with the South Omaha community at the Santa at the Southeast Precinct event Sunday afternoon.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the holiday celebration at Omaha South High School, which was hosted by the officers of the Southeast Precinct.
The officers fundraised toys and gifts for the children and distributed them to the kids at the event.
"When you see the kids smiling and having fun and actually getting a gift, and knowing that it came from the police department I think is just a great interaction among the police and the community,” says Capt. Kathy Gonzalez.
The event first started nearly 15 years ago by Ofelia Robles, a Crime Prevention Specialist for OPD who’s been with the force for 21 years.
Robles says the event first started in the precinct’s small conference room with a few dozen people and quickly grew into the hundreds each year. She says the large turnout each year demonstrates the need for families in the area.
"A lot of the families that do come here are people that could use those extra toys or extra tree sets that we give out in this program. I think this is something that we feel we're helping our community,” says Robles.
Robles says the event isn’t just to provide gifts for the kids, but also build unity between police and the community.
"We want it to feel like home, we want it to be family-oriented. That's important to this community. I think the community itself draws that in."
Mike Flores, a volunteer at the event who has attended the event for the last 10 years says he enjoys it because kids have the opportunity to see officers for who they really are – ‘heroes.’
"Their job is not always positive. Most of the time it's not positive, so in a situation like this, it's always 100% positive. And that's a good thing, I think,” says Flores.