Captain Cedric Raymond of the 72nd Precinct stood before a room of children when he got a call over his police radio on Saturday—a jolly fat fellow with a red suit and a big white beard was on the loose.
Raymond turned to the kids assembled at Children of the City’s annual Christmas party for help. Kids, do you know who that could be?
“Santa!” yelled the crowd.
Officers from the 72nd Precinct, which includes Sunset Park, banded together this holiday season to help by gifts for the nearly 700 children who wrote holiday wish letters this year. Children of the City, a community organization with a 30-year history in Southwest Brooklyn, worked with the precinct and New York Cares to provide answer the Christmas wishes.
And for the Saturday, the NYPD officers took off their blues and donned red suits as Santa, Mrs. Claus and Santa’s Little Helpers.
“The children they just loved it,” said Captain Raymond. “Just to see the looks on their faces.”
Raymond brought the Dear Santa tradition to the precinct last year. In 2008 officers went door to door to deliver the gifts on Christmas day. This year, Community Affairs Officer Frank Siclari helped the precinct partner with Children of the City. Officers answered the letters of 75 kids at the Children of the City event Saturday. The 72nd also bought gifts for children at St. Andrew’s Community Daycare Center on 53rd Street, which they distributed at an event last Friday.
“They were so happy. They were so young,” said Raymond. “Some of the gifts were bigger than the children themselves.”
Letter-writers asked for gifts ranging from a from a toy fire truck to clothing, shoes and baby formula, said Raymond. Officers took “three, four, five” letters each, said Raymond, and purchased the wish list with personal funds.
“So cool to be able to give children…they got what they asked for, which was really very cool,” said Daniel Ramos, administrator at Children of the City.
The organization has seen an increase in requests for help in this year’s down economy. The unemployment rate in Sunset Park is 8.2 percent, according to a recent report by the Fiscal Policy Institute. This is lower than the Brooklyn average of 10.9 percent. Yet many in Sunset Park go uncounted, or have had their hours, tips and wages reduced in the economic downturn.
Non-profit organizations have suffered as well, but Ramos says Children of the City has seen new kinds of generosity pocketbooks have thinned.
“Certainly financial giving has dropped because of the economy, but what we’ve seen is an increase actually in people’s giving in kind,” Ramos said.
People have donated time, services and donations like the gifts from the 72nd precinct. Both Ramos and Raymond emphasized that the partnership goes beyond wrapping and ribbons.
“Bringing in the police force, it’s great for the kids to see the police in a different light,” Ramos said. “Often in the community they’ll see the arresting an older sibling who’s gotten in trouble with the law. This way, they see cops in a positive light.”
Raymond seconded that perspective.
“It shows the public that we do care,” Raymond said. “We work in the neighborhood where there are a lot of immigrants, and they may be fearful of government. This is one way to break down those barriers.”
Photographs courtesy of Captain Cedric Raymond.