HANFORD — Next time you see a S.W.A.T. vehicle, it may not be full of tactical weapons, but instead with stocking stuffers and other presents.
The Central Valley Regional S.W.A.T. Team will host its 10th annual Stuff the S.W.A.T. Truck toy drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Target.
“It’s joyful to see. It’s exciting to see when kids who may not be getting anything [for Christmas] otherwise get something small like a box of crayons or a coloring book or puzzles, it’s something,” Hanford Police Department’s Ryan Tomey said. “You go and you get to see a little bit of a change for the better for a little while. It’s the brighter side of what we do for a living.”
When the children realize that some of their presents aren’t coming from Santa, but from local law enforcement, it helps build a good relationship, the detective said.
Tomey said that in addition to doing something positive to help reverse any lack of trust that members of the community may sometimes have for law enforcement, the toy drive is also personally fulfilling. An overwhelming majority of those in law enforcement are parents, which gives them an added boost of empathy toward the plight of children who may not have the perfect Christmas mornings they see on TV.
“A lot of us are cops by day and fathers and mothers by night,” he said about why the project has become important to those officers that participate
In addition to toys, officers will accept non-perishable food items and clothing.
The idea for the event started a decade ago in a perhaps unlikely place – assault practice. Tomey and his team wanted to do something positive for the community and Stuff the S.W.A.T. Truck was born.
Each year, around 500 families benefit from the project, he said.
The law enforcement team benefit as well, Tomey said.
“It’s good to see the team get excited about something and work together,” he said.
After the collection, groups of officers will work to separate the toys by gender and age group while others deliver the presents. Other officers will go on a mission to local stores to purchase items for older children who, Tomey said, are often overlooked during holiday gift drives. Gifts of clothing and other items will be secured for teens.
Needy recipients for the donated gifts are found mostly through local churches, school resource officers and tips from the public. Tomey can be reached at 559-585-4725 with any such information.
During a call to service, an officer may notice that there isn’t much under the Christmas tree and will make sure to come back later bearing some of the collected gifts or will inform the next shift of the children’s needs. Tomey described it as a “team effort.”
Tomey said one year around the holidays he responded to a domestic disturbance at a residence and came back mere hours afterward with presents for the children — something that undoubtedly would have lifted an otherwise heavy mood.
“The guys that are working, they’re the frontline guys. They see who’s who,” Tomey said. “It’s a little more heartwarming when we run into the kids who need it and don’t ask for it or are out there but don’t have the resources to come find us.”