Yvette Martinez’s seven children hid behind her when they saw Arlington police at their front door on Christmas Eve.
“It’s the cops! It’s the cops!” they yelled, thinking that something was wrong.
But Martinez, whose five girls and two boys range in age from 1 to 13, was relieved to see the officers. She had contacted Councilman Robert Rivera on his Facebook page and asked if he knew where she could get help finding presents for her children.
It has been a tough year for the family. Martinez recently separated from her husband, and with all the bills she couldn’t afford gifts.
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Martinez remembered that Rivera had helped her children get school supplies at his annual back-to-school roundup in August.
“I asked him if he had any information on where I could get gifts for my kids and gave him my number,” Martinez said. “I didn’t know he was going to come today.”
Rivera, Arlington Police Association President Becki Brandenburg and another officer brought stuffed animals, Dora the Explorer toys, cars, wrestling figurines, balls, dolls and a skateboard to the family.
Martinez’s oldest daughter, Maricruz Gonzalez, got something extra special: a curling iron and hair straightener.
The 13-year-old is in remission from leukemia, which was diagnosed in 2009. The treatment caused her to lose her hair, but now she has it all back, plus some, her mom said.
“It’s thick, long and soft,” Gonzalez said. “I really like doing stuff to my hair because before I couldn’t do anything to it.”
Gonzalez was happy for her siblings to receive gifts they weren’t expecting.
“We’ve been through a lot,” she said.
Rivera said he contacted Brandenburg and asked her if the Santa Cop program could help the family.
“It was beyond wonderful to see the joy and excitement on the face of the children,” he said. “To see the extreme gratitude of the mom, the joy she had that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”
Brandenburg said the association has handed out presents on Christmas Eve for as long as she can remember. Officers handed out presents to nine other families Tuesday as a part of the program that started 27 years ago to give gifts to underprivileged children.
“This is the best day of the year for us because it’s great to see these kids’ faces light up, because they get to see us in a different light, because most of the kids see police as enforcers and now they get to see that we are people, too,” she said.