Rim Public Safety Officers Bring Christmas Cheer To Children In Need

Susan and Denis LaBonte, left, arrived at Gerardo's with too many gifts to carry themselves and needed help from firefighter Andrew Hensley during the Tamales for Toys fundraiser, Saturday, Dec. 3.

Susan and Denis LaBonte, left, arrived at Gerardo's with too many gifts to carry themselves and needed help from firefighter Andrew Hensley during the Tamales for Toys fundraiser, Saturday, Dec. 3. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The smell of tamales hit as soon as the door to Gerardo’s Fireside Grill opened at the Tamales for Toys event Saturday, Dec. 3.

Diners sat around the restaurant savoring the perfectly seasoned tamales and pinto beans. To support the cause, they could either donate a toy or pay cash.

Friends greeted each other as new groups came in to sit and eat. A steady stream of people picked up bags of a dozen tamales to take home.

The 2011 Tamales for Toys (soon to be renamed Public Safety Christmas for Kids event) brought the community out to support children who live on the edge.

“There’s one family we want to help. Their mom died of cancer recently and Grandma is raising all four kids,” said Jason Hazelo, a Payson police officer who has chaired the event for the last three years.

Andrew Hensley, a Payson firefighter and event committee member, told of children who had so little, they didn’t feel they could ask for much when shopping with their public safety officer.

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Firefighters Mike Brandt (left) and Sam Mays place tamales into steam containers for cooking as they prepared for Tamales for Toys day, Saturday, Dec. 3 at Gerardo’s Firewood Cafe.

“These kids will come up to an officer and quietly ask for a simple jacket, when we could buy them so much more,” he said.

When these same children go to Santa’s workshop, even though they find themselves surrounded by bikes, remote cars, stuffed animals and board games, they come to sit on Santa’s lap only holding a coloring book Hensley said.

These heartbreaking stories inspire people like Susan and Dennis LaBonte to bring in a pickup full of toys.

“Because the community supports us, we have to support the community,” said Susan. She and her husband own three businesses in town.

This year, 190 dozen tamales were prepared by volunteers.

Crystal Cordova came in from Pine to fry up 300 pounds of meat and cook 250 pounds of masa.

Jackie Lee assembled 25 pounds of pinto beans. The Mazatzal Hotel and Casino donated the majority of the ingredients for the tamales. Gerardo Moceri offered his kitchen and restaurant. Safeway, Walmart, Pepsi, Macky’s and the Buffalo Bar all pitched in with seasonings, drinks and cutlery to make sure as much money as possible goes to the kids.

With the economic downturn, Hazelo has concerns that the proceeds from this year will not match up with donations in the past.

“I don’t know what to expect this year,” said Hazelo.

Donors can be assured that all funds raised come from northern Gila County and stay in northern Gila County.

Any children participating in the program must show proof of residency.

“We serve northern Gila County residents from Payson, Pine, Strawberry, Young and Tonto Basin,” said Hazelo.

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