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Photos by Antonio Mejias

It’s begun to look a lot like Christmas at Ramona Gardens, where holiday lights and decorations went up last Friday to mark the official beginning of the season.

Resident volunteers and employees of the Housing Authority of Los Angeles (HACLA) put up the outdoor decorations, including wooden Christmas trees and snowmen and an inflatable Santa. Workers hung banners from street lamps along Lancaster Avenue, the housing complex’s main drag, that read Happy Holidays Ramona Gardens. They also built a throne for Santa Claus and decorated the gym for the occasion.

According to a Housing Authority employee, Ramona Gardens is the only Los Angeles public housing complex where its workers put up Christmas lights and decorations. They went up in time for last week’s fourth annual toy giveaway, organized by Los Angeles Police Department officers assigned to the Community Safety Partnership (CSP).

Shortly after dusk on Friday, Santa Claus arrived accompanied by LAPD squad cars and a fire truck sounding their sirens. He was received by parents and children lined up for the toy giveaway and by mariachi musicians playing festive tunes. Members of the USC football team waited inside the gym, where the toy giveaway took place.

“It gives us such a great platform as USC football players, to come out and do things like these,” said 22-year-old quarterback Anthony Neyer. “It’s a great opportunity to help and be involved in the neighborhood, and we decided to take it.”

Capt. Martin Baeza, commanding officer at the LAPD Hollenbeck station, said the toy giveaway is an opportunity for CSP officers to be seen as part of the Ramona Gardens community. He said that was particularly important just days after a major Eastside raid against the Big Hazard gang, which included the arrest of eight people at the housing complex.

This year’s toy giveaway “has a little more significance,” said Baeza. “We like to let [residents] know that we are much more than enforcement. We want to give them a little back, and this is our opportunity to do that.”

A CPS officer said as many as 500 residents aged 4 to 11 pre registered for the toy giveaway at the gym, and that extra toys would be given to families who did not get a chance to sign up and who waited in line outside the gym.

Inside the gym, as children picked up the toys, they had an opportunity to meet and talk to Santa. Afterwards, they had an opportunity to ride a trackless miniature train, part of what is now becoming a holiday tradition at Ramona Gardens.

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