By Lolita Harper, San Bernardino Sun (California)
RIALTO, Calif. - It was shiny and red, but it wasn't Rudolph's red nose that led Santa to the Rialto Boys and Girls Club on Thursday morning.
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived on a Rialto Fire Department engine, anxious to hand out gifts to deserving families gathered outside the new Police Activities League and Boys and Girls Club Center.
"Santa! Santa!' the children called from the front steps of the center.
Once inside, the children gathered with their families in rows of chairs and listened to greetings from Police Chief Michael Myers, Rep. Joe Baca and his son, Assemblyman Joe Baca Jr., both D-Rialto. The officials reminded the children to be good girls and boys and introduced the Soria family, which lost father Jose Luis Soria when he was shot dead on his way to buy cough syrup for his infant son.
"The best gift you can receive is not what you are going to get here today,' the senior Baca said. "It is the gift of life and love of a family members. ... The life that is lost, you cannot bring back.'
Baca's comments brought a tear to Araceli Hernandez's eye. The mother of nine, who recently lost a friend, nodded during the congressman's remarks, saying, "It's so true.' She hugged her 3-year-old daughter closely and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"(Christmas time) is hard,' Hernandez said. "If it wasn't for this we'd have nothing. The older kids understand but not the younger ones they want toys.'
And toys are what the kids got.
Rialto police Lt. Joseph Cirilo said members of the department all chipped in and bought dozens of gifts to brighten the lives of area residents.
Luis Soria, the 3-year-old son of the slain Rialto man, played with an overstuffed frog as his mother, Raquel Gonzalez, rocked his 3-month-old brother.
Gonzalez said she is doing as well as could be expected. The small family will spend Christmas with their neighbors and close friends, enjoying traditional homemade tamales and posole a pork and hominy-based soup.
Mario Ferguson, 17, the oldest of his five siblings, watched the younger kids excitedly shake and examine their presents. Their mother would not let them open them until Christmas.
The senior at Eisenhower High School said he didn't need a gift from the Rialto Police Department because he already had his gift.
"I've already got it my family,' Mario said.