Prison pulls out all the stops for schoolchildren
Christmas came early for some students at Smith River Elementary School on Friday.
Santa Claus, who also spends time as a prison sergeant, is greeted by Smith River schoolchildren at the school Friday. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Children playing basketball and soccer and frolicking on the jungle gym stopped in their tracks when Santa Claus stepped out of a Pelican Bay State Prison Fire Truck that pulled onto the playground.
They hugged him from all sides and pulled at his beard while cheering.
“Has everyone been nice?” he asked the pint-sized crowd.
“Yeah,” they shouted back.
During his entrance, a few of the students asked why he was at their school.
The answer: Pelican Bay adopted Smith River this year for its inaugural “Operation Santa” gift-giving event.
Last month, kindergarteners and first-graders were asked to pen letters to Santa requesting what they wanted for Christmas as a writing assignment, said Robert Losacco, community resource manager at Pelican Bay.
Unbeknownst to them, they would actually be receiving the gifts.
Instead of the North Pole, the 54 hope-filled letters were delivered to the prison, where employees chose letters with the intent to fulfill a child’s wish.
“Some staff got so into it they bought more than one present,” said Losacco, adding that there weren’t enough letters to meet the demand of employees wanting to partake in present purchasing.
“We wanted to do something, especially in these economic times,” said Losacco.
Most of the requests were granted, but some children with loftier desires — such as horses and dogs — had to settle for alternatives, Losacco said.
Bikes were a hot choice, and nine were given. They were also the first letters to be selected by staff, which surprised Losacco.
“Every kid deserves a bike,” Losacco said he was told by one staff member who didn’t have one as a child.
A truck carrying all of the presents, which took the place of Santa’s sack, followed behind his fire truck. The kids sat down after singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and Santa gave out the presents.
Braydon Beshire gets just the DVDs he wanted Friday during Pelican Bay State Prison’s “Operation Santa.” For more photos, go to triplicate.com/photos. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
“This is the awesomest day in school, ever,” one student said to a peer.
The children sat down with their still-wrapped gifts and, to Principal Page Swan’s amazement, they were patient.
The relative calmness turned chaotic when the children were given the green light to open the presents.
“Whoa, ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua,’ that’s my favorite movie,” said Braydon Beshire as he stood up and spun around.
Braydon also received “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2” on DVD.
Transformer figurines, Nerf guns, dolls, remote control cars and handheld video game consoles were being shown off by the children.
The event was kickstarted by Pelican Bay’s acting warden, Greg Lewis. He had done the same at his previous post in Kern County and decided he wanted to continue the tradition in Del Norte.
“The prison is part of this community and giving back to the community is what it’s all about, especially during Christmas,” said Lewis.
Each year, the prison will adopt a different school for the event, Lewis said.