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Police, Marines Team up to make Christmas Merry for Elementary Students

Pandemic or not, providing holiday gifts to every Pueblo School District 60 pre-K through fifth-grade student would appear to be an insurmountable task.

But not when the Pueblo Police Department and the U.S. Marines are on the front lines of benevolence. SROs unload pallets of toys from delivery truck

Last year, a partnership between the police department’s school resource officers and Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps Reserve’s signature holiday program, saw nearly 7,000 high-quality gifts distributed in elementary schools districtwide.

After learning of the availability of items through Toys for Tots, and with the students they serve firmly in mind, D60 school resource officers approached Freddie Gallegos, coordinator of the Pueblo arm of the program, with a request.

For about 7,000 gifts.

Although the number initially staggered Mr. Gallegos, he agreed – at the urging of Sgt. Dennis Furbush – to submit an application to the national Toys for Tots Foundation.

A few months later, the gift-filled pallets arrived at the Pueblo Police Department, with school resource officers in turn handing out the holiday bounty at elementary schools districtwide in a venture they christened “Operation Blue Santa.”

But with the uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic, and students learning remotely at home, there was, initially, doubt that “Operation Blue Santa” would be replicated.

“It’s too bad we can’t do it again this year,” one elementary school principal told School Resource Officer Matt Purkett.

“Don’t worry,” was Officer Purkett’s reply. “We’re going to find a way to make it happen.”

And just as he did in 2019, Mr. Gallegos submitted a request for the sizeable supply of yuletide presents, which to his delight was approved by the national Toys for Tots Foundation.

“I knew they would come through for us,” Mr. Gallegos said.

On Wednesday, a jam-packed semi-trailer – the Marine Corps version of Santa’s Sleigh – pulled into the police department campus: a foretelling of yet another Merry Christmas for thousands of D60 children.

On hand to greet it, and unload it, were Officers Purkett and Anthony Masciotra, who are taking the lead in this year’s giveaway.

“A full truck means a happy Christmas for a lot of kids,” Officer Purkett said as he surveyed the 26 pallets of gifts.

“For some of the kids, this might be the only gift they get this year,” added Officer Masciotra.

For Sgt. Furbush, the spirited champion of “Operation Blue Santa,” the arrival of the big rig was a touching moment and a reminder of the impact last year’s giveaway had on the children.

“It was super, super exciting how happy and appreciative the kids were,” Sgt. Furbush said. “Seeing how emotional they got in turn made us super happy and emotional. It was just great to see the excitement they had.”

Sgt. Furbush admitted that despite his relentless advocacy of the giveaway, he harbored doubts as to whether it would happen again this year.

“We had no idea it was going to work this year, because of COVID and everything else,” he said. “And to have it work out is beyond my expectations.”

With students learning from home for the remainder of the month, the way in which the gifts will be distributed has been modified. 

This year, the district’s four high schools will serve as mobile distribution sites, with school resource officers handing out gifts based on the following schedule:

Wednesday, December 9, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at South High School: for students of South Park, Highland Park, Sunset Park and Beulah Heights elementary schools; Goodnight School (K through grade 5 only), and Paragon Preschool.

Thursday, December 10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at East High School: for students of Park View, Baca, Fountain, Bradford, Haaff and Belmont elementary schools, and Franklin School of Innovation.

Monday, December 14, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Central High School: for students of Carlile, Heritage, Minnequa and Columbian elementary schools; Bessemer Academy, and Corwin International Magnet School (grades 4 and 5 only.)

Tuesday, December 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Centennial High School: for students of Irving and Morton elementary schools.

Students do not have to be present in order to receive a gift. Parents or guardians are asked to provide school resource officers with the name or names of recipient students from the respective school at the time of pickup.

For those school community members who are unable to make it to a distribution site, arrangements will be made with the building principal to ensure the student or students receive a gift.

Dalton Sprouse, the district’s director of communications, said the gift giveaway is reflective of the productive partnership the district has with the police department.

“Our school resource officers are here to help and support our students,” he said. “And this program is just part of the way they do that throughout the year.”

SRO Matt Purkett uses forklift to move pallets of toys for D60 students