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Operation Santa offers holiday reprieve for families of fallen, wounded Chicago cops

“It is absolutely beautiful to know that my family in blue remembers every year,” said Crystal Garcia, the widow of Samuel Jimenez, a Chicago police officer killed during a shooting rampage at Mercy Hospital in 2018.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, with the help of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, drop off gifts to the family of fallen CPD officer Samuel Jimenez in West Morgan Park on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020.
Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, with the help of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, drop off gifts to the family of fallen CPD officer Samuel Jimenez in West Morgan Park on Sunday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Tragedy struck the Jimenez family just as the holiday season was beginning in 2018.

Three days before Thanksgiving, Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez was gunned down while responding to a shooting at Mercy Hospital.

The gunman ultimately died in a shootout with police after also killing two others, making it the deadliest shooting spree in three decades in which a Chicago cop was among those killed. For Jimenez’s widow, Crystal Garcia, the holidays have been especially hard for the family since his death.

But Sunday brought one reliable bright spot: Santa’s early visit to their Morgan Park home.

The quick stop by a visitor from the North Pole was part of Operation Santa, an annual event organized by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation for the children of cops who were “killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty,” according to the foundation’s website.

“It is absolutely beautiful to know that my family in blue remembers every year,” Garcia said Sunday. “Even with the smallest things, to see a smile on my kids’ faces means everything to me, so I’m grateful and very fortunate to have such a big family.”

Flanked by Mrs. Claus, Frosty the Snowman and about a dozen officers, Santa doled out gifts to 6-year-old Angelina, 11-year-old Julian and 14-year-old Ebony.

A masked Frosty greets the Jimenez family on Sunday as part of Operation Santa.
A masked Frosty greets the Jimenez family on Sunday as part of Operation Santa.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Young Angelina couldn’t hold back her excitement after opening a new electric scooter. She was quickly zooming up and down the sidewalk, telling reporters to make way.

“Honestly, it means a lot,” Garcia said of the event. “It means that my husband is still being remembered.”

Philip J. Cline, executive director of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, said his organization was simply there to offer some solace to children going through a “tough time.”

“Even though they lost their dad, they’ve got 13,000 other mothers and fathers that are going to look out for them,” he said, referring to the sworn and civilian members of the police department.

Now in its 14th year, Operation Santa is visiting 13 other families this season. That included the family of Officer Paul Nauden. About an hour after arriving at the Jimenez home, the caravan was in the city’s Scottsdale neighborhood, bearing gifts for Nauden’s two daughters.

Nauden died in 2011 after suffering a heart attack on his way to an undercover drug buy. His daughters, 12-year-old Alana and 14-year-old Avril, have been part of “Operation Santa” for each of the nine years since their father’s death.

“I feel comfort just knowing that they care for us and they remember us every year,” Avril said.

But for Nauden’s widow, April, it’s “always a little sad” when the team of cops leaves.

“It can get to be a little bit emotional at times,” she said. “But with them, it kind of helps us.”

Officer Paul Nauden’s family was visited by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s “Operation Santa” on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020.
Officer Paul Nauden’s family was visited by the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s “Operation Santa” on Sunday.
Tom Schuba/Sun-Times