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Operation Santa brings gifts to families of wounded, fallen officers

Santa Claus swapped his reindeer and sled for a black Suburban and Chicago Police motorcade Sunday as the convoy, loaded with presents, elves and Mrs. Claus delivered gifts to the families of police officers who were killed or catastrophically injured on the job.

Juan Jacinto, 41, lost his right eye in 1998 when a drunken driver hit his Chicago Police squad car. On Sunday afternoon, Santa — a merry operative of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation — arrived at his Southwest Side home.

Santa sat on Jacinto’s couch and cracked jokes as his kids opened presents.

“Did you ever see a butterfly?” Santa asked Jacinto’s 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, as she opened a Barbie doll. “No,” she answered. “Get me some butter and I’ll show you how it flies,” he said.

Mrs. Claus looked at the girl and told her to repeat this phrase: “Santa, you’re so silly.”

“Tear it apart. Make a mess, it’s OK,” Santa encouraged the kids as they unwrapped gifts.

Jacinto’s sons, Juan, 11, and Esai, 9, both received iPods and gift cards, among other presents.

Jacinto, who now works as a pre-school teacher, was grateful for the visit.

“The Memorial Foundation has been a blessing,” he said. “They’ve come around the last few years and have been able to give presents to my kids.”

The foundation raised $60,000 for its holiday mission.

Over the weekend, the happy crew visited the families of about a dozen officers, most of whom were killed on the job.

“The kids appreciate the presents, but even more so that we haven’t forgot them,” said Phil Cline, executive director of the foundation. “And that’s the important thing, especially for the surviving spouses, to let them know that they’ll never be forgotten and we’re always here to support them.”

<em>Officer Juan Jacinto Jr. and his wife, Patty, open gifts they received Sunday from Operation Santa, a program run by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.</em> | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times
Officer Juan Jacinto Jr. and his wife, Patty, open gifts they received Sunday from Operation Santa, a program run by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times