GPOA surprises family with a holiday gift that dreams are made of

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Screaming police sirens rent the air as several Gardena squad cars pulled up in front of a small trailer park off of South Vermont Avenue Thursday night. Their flashing lights illuminated the face of Juan Hernandez Sr. as he stood at the trailer park's entrance.

On any other night this might have alarmed Juan. But that night there was a broad smile on his face and a bounce in his step as he moved forward to greet the police officers who piled out of the squad cars and off of the Gardena Police Officers Association’s (POA) Santa Float that had arrived with them.

Screaming police sirens rent the air as several Gardena squad cars pulled up in front of a small trailer park off of South Vermont Avenue Thursday night. Their flashing lights illuminated the face of Juan Hernandez Sr. as he stood at the trailer park's entrance.

On any other night this might have alarmed Juan. But that night there was a broad smile on his face and a bounce in his step as he moved forward to greet the police officers who piled out of the squad cars and off of the Gardena Police Officers Association’s (POA) Santa Float that had arrived with them.

Arrests were not on the agenda that evening. Instead the officers were there to present Juan, his wife Mirna and their two sons, Angell, 10, and Juan Jr., 6, with Christmas toys, gift cards, some cash and a small Christmas tree as part of the POA’s annual sponsorship of a Gardena family that is in need during the Christmas holidays.

Gardena police detective Luis Villanueva said that the POA sponsored the Hernandez family this year in collaboration with Helping Hands and Connection Point Ministries, a non-denominational Christian outreach group.

The Hernandez family was recommended to the POA for sponsorship by Helping Hands.

Juan Sr. said he lost his job as a computer technician two years ago and since then times have been tough for his family. But as long as they had each other, “life would be OK.”

The family's youngest boy, Juan Jr., has the congenital disease Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle-bone disease, which is characterized by weak bones and stunted growth, Mirna said.

Juan Jr. was born with broken arms and legs as well as broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and was not expected to live.

“He's a miracle baby,” Mirna said. “He was never going to be able to sit, to walk (according to doctors). He sits, he walks, he eats on his own (now).”

Juan said that over the past six years, Juan Jr. has undergone eight surgeries including several to implant and change out metal rods in his legs and that his son is still recovering from his latest surgery 2 months ago, during which a rod in his right leg was replaced.

Since being laid off, Juan and his family have been surviving on food stamps and the Social Security disability payments they receive for Juan Jr.'s care, he and Mirna said.

They both said that being sponsored by the POA took them by surprise.

“I couldn't believe it; I thought 'no way,”' Juan said. “I thought they would just bring the kids a couple presents and that would be it, but once we got more into it and asked more questions, Mr. Villanueva told us that they had some donations and food for us and I thought 'wow, this is going to be bigger then I thought.'”

Villanueva said that with help from the Connection Point Ministries group and Helping Hands, the POA was able to furnish the Hernandez family with Christmas presents for the children, a $350 Target gift card, a $100 Food-4-Less gift card, several restaurant gift cards, $500 from the POA and a Christmas tree.

“I'm so happy,” Mirna said after the donations were delivered. “We've never had a Christmas like this so I am so appreciative of everything they have done.”

Juan said that the experience had shifted his preconceptions of the local police.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get picked for anything like this,” he. said. “I've seen it happen on TV but not to us. It’s a warm feeling. I have different thoughts of the police officers now, especially in Gardena because they have a bad rap.”

Juan Jr. said his favorite part of the whole experience were “the presents.”

“We weren’t going to be able to have a Christmas like we usually do, but this (the donations) made it wonderful for the kids,” Juan Sr. said. “You see their smiles; you see their happiness. That's our Christmas right there.”