Christmas came a little early for hundreds of kids in San Diego’s Mountain View neighborhood.
The San Diego Police Department teamed up with lowrider groups, churches and local businesses for "Holiday in the Park" at Willie Henderson Park. The event was a celebration, but it also happened at a park that has seen troubling gang problems in the recent past.
“We did several neighborhood walks. From our observations, this park was infested with a lot of criminal activity, violence, drug activity, prostitution, so the community came to me and said, 'Hey we need to do something,'” said Capt. Manny Del Torro of the San Diego Police Department.
Holiday in the Park started with Santa showing up on a red San Diego fire truck. St. Nick had plenty of helpers to hand out bikes, games and toys of all types.
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“It’s really huge to get things like this. As a single mom, for three kids. It’s huge,” said Andrea, a San Diego resident.
Andrea is grateful for all the assistance. She's also impressed with how police and businesses have teamed up to put on the holiday event.
“There’s a lot of people that seem like they’re all having a good time. There are some old school cars. We’re going to go check out some low riders,” Andrea said.
“We feel pretty safe. Pretty protected. Nothing to be afraid of,” Andrea said.
Holiday in the Park also included dance performances, music and free food. There was also a free COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
While the mood is festive, police say the area near the park has seen problems caused by gang activity.
“I think this park has gone downhill a little bit,” said Fatima Lira, a Mountain View resident who lives across the street from Willie Henderson Park.
Lira says she has been hesitant to bring her child to the park, but events like Holiday in the Park make her more inclined to return. The San Diego Police Department and local businesses are hoping to have more family-friendly events at Willie Henderson Park in the future.
More than 1,000 toys were handed out during Saturday’s toy giveaway. There was no cost to the City of San Diego. All toys were donated by local businesses and charities.