HARTFORD —Unusually warm weather and an overheated gym made things a little toasty for Santa Claus’s visit to the Hartford Police Activities Christmas camp Monday, but that didn’t stop him from bringing toys and delivering a talk on character.
“It’s nice to be important,” Santa told about 50 city kids who attended the camp, “but it’s more important to be nice.”
Saint Nick went on to talk about the importance of manners, helping others, honesty and having a good attitude before talking to each child about what they wanted for Christmas and sending them over to bleachers stacked with brightly wrapped toys.
The visit with Santa was part of a day-long camp that included a field trip, lunch and a game of dodgeball for children enrolled in the PAL afterschool program.
Participants go to the program afterschool, four days a week, have a snack, do homework, take part in a class and play games. Hartford’s PAL also offer programs including football, boxing and a recently-launched youth hockey league..
Nesere Sanchez, 9, said he likes going to PAL after school because it’s fun and he gets to play with his friends.
His mother, Jenelle Townsend, likes it because Nesere gets to interact with role models who share his ethnic background.
“Those are officers he can see himself in and know that he can make a difference too,” she said.
Townsend also appreciates the officers’ concerns for the families they serve.
“They talk to the kids and really care. You can feel it,” Townsend said.
For Hartford Police Sgt. Karla Medina, who oversees four other officers in the PAL unit housed in the former Quirk Middle School, the program and the party are all about showing that.
“We want them to know “you’re here because you matter to us,’” Medina said.
Medina said the police department funds the unit and ongoing programs, but added that they reach out to fellow officers to donate toys and local businesses to help cover the cost of events like the Christmas camp.
Monday’s event, which Medina estimated cost about $2,000, received a boost from Unitex Textile Rental Services, which operates about a dozen laundry facilities in the Northeast, including two in Hartford and one in South Windsor.
The company contributed about $1,000 to the event.
“We pride ourselves on giving back,” said district manager Adam Chotkowski. “Hartford’s been good to us. We wanted to return the favor.”
Mike Clifford, president of the board of Hartford PAL, a non-profit organization created to provide support for the department’s program, said Monday that their goal is to engage businesses like Unitex in order to expand opportunities for kids.
“We think there are plenty of people in the community who would give money to help. We just need to get the word out,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ to kids.”
For information about programs and donating visit hartfordpal.org.
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