By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
For four hours Tuesday, the Angels Camp Police Station garage was transformed into a Christmas kingdom complete with Santa, his elves and lots of cookies, candy and hot chocolate.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., firefighters from Angels Camp and Altaville/New Melones districts, Angels police officers and several Police Explorers along with community volunteers handed out wrapped gifts, packed food baskets into cars, and welcomed families.
In one corner, Santa sat with teddy bears and candy canes to give away. Jackets, jeans and other clothing were displayed on a table, ready for the choosing. Another table held cookies, candies, brownies, hot chocolate and coffee.
"The Explorers started this about five years ago," said Angels police officer Tom Spence. "They wanted to help people in our community so they took presents to the hospital."
But the need and the volunteer enthusiasm grew and three years ago, the police and firefighters as well as other community volunteers joined in.
This year, more than 20 volunteers from throughout the area shopped for presents, organized food pickups and helped welcome the families to the Christmas kingdom Tuesday.
About 40 families from Angels Camp and as far up the mountains as Murphys benefited from the Christmas spirit.
"Schools and community members let us know which families might be having a struggle and need some help to have a merry Christmas," said Spence. "We check to make sure they aren't on anyone else's list ... so we aren't doubling up with groups like Santa's Express."
Spence said each family receives enough food for a Christmas feast, presents for all the kids, clothes and other useful items. He said a lot of the presents come from people in Greenhorn Creek and from other community members who want to "give something back."
Freelance photographer Irene Baldwin photographed children visiting with Santa, giving each family a Polaroid print of the encounter.