University Neighborhood Enhancement Team (UNET) officers with gift recipients
On Dec. 19 University Neighborhood Enhancement Team (UNET) officers drove to a local family justice center with every intention of dropping off the $350 worth of donated toys in the back of their patrol car. That is, until they didn’t.
Spotting children walking home from school in the university’s adjacent eastside community, the officers suddenly felt a strong desire to do something extraordinary. Those toys never made it to the center that day, but instead went directly into the hands of those children and other underprivileged families who came into contact with the officers.
“[The gifts] were received with smiles on faces, and parents doing everything from crying to wanting to donate money to further the cause,” says Wade Stern, president of the UC Riverside Police Officer Association which collectively hosted the internal fundraiser in which officers, dispatchers, and other members of the UCR police department donated toys and/or funds.
The association originally intended to only donate items to a third-party holiday toy drive. A painting done by one of their own officers was raffled at its holiday party to raise additional funds for the cause. The raffle raised $300 to purchase toys to add to its existing donations.
But Stern and his team questioned the method of traditional toy drives, lamenting the lack of personal touch involved. It wasn’t until that final hour that the solution was inspired:
“It wasn’t the plan,” Stern said. “But it really added that personal touch. It turned into something we never thought it was going to be.”
The overwhelming response from the community caused the yuletide encounter to quickly go viral, as pictures of the officers and children appeared on “What’s Happening in Riverside County,” a local Facebook group. The post has since got over 1,000 likes.
The association did contribute remaining toys to Toys for Tots but were happy that they could do something more.
When asked if the UNET officers will be back at it next holiday season, Stern said that’s the plan.